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British boy stuck in UAE over fear of flying

posted 19 Aug 2012, 05:45 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 19 Aug 2012, 05:45 ]

UAE-Flight Phobia -- British boy stuck in UAE over fear of flying

CCTV BEIJING - For Brits living and working in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it only takes about seven hours to fly back to London for the Olympics that ended on August 12.

But 11-year-old Joe Thomson, who was attending a British school in Al Ain of the UAE, missed all the events in his home country as he got stranded in the UAE over an overwhelming fear of flying.

Joe came to Al Ain four years ago when his father, Tony Thomson, came to work for the office of the humanitarian group Red Crescent. Joe used to travel by air between the UAE and Britain, but that all changed this March when he was about to board a flight in Abu Dhabi to Sri Lanka for a rugby game with his school team.

"I go to the toilet, I text my mom, saying I can't do this again. Then I go back, I sit down, then I just can't move. I get, as I call it, lock-down. I can't move one muscle, unless I'm moving in the other direction," said Joe, who had to miss the game.

Joe's parents chalked it up to temporary jitters before the game and didn't pay much attention to this incident. After all, their boy had been flying since he was three months old.

Joe and his elder sister, who also studied in Al Ain, planned to return to Britain during the summer vacation for high school and university studies at home in the fall. But when they were about to board a plane bound to London, Joe, once again -- and even after being injected with a sedative by a doctor -- was overwhelmed by a sudden sense of fear.

In the end, Joe's father stayed with him in the UAE while his mother and sister flew back to London. The two thus missed their long-expected football matches during the Olympics even though they got the tickets.

Tony resigned himself to take better care of his son. He has tried all means to overcome his son's phobia, including psychological counseling, but still can't seem to ease his son's fear of flying.

Out of necessity, Tony decided to take his son home by land and sea.

The father and son planned to start out on July 30 and would rent a SUV to drive across Saudi Arabia and reach its west coast, then take a boat across the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal to Turkey or some other country in Continental Europe. Then they would travel by land to London and arrive by Aug. 12, which was his wife's birthday and the closing day of the Olympics.

However, the plan was derailed when their visa applications for Saudi Arabia were denied. The two never made it home in time, in fact, as of Saturday they hadn't even left Al Ain.

But their story was reported locally and seen by a Saudi Arabian prince, who invited them to the country. On Aug. 9, the two finally obtained their visas, granting them a period of seven days in Saudi Arabia.

And now Tony and Joe are about to head off on their grand adventure home. They were busy packing for the trip on Saturday, preparing to set off the next day.

"It's gonna be a good journey. It's gonna be quite hard, but it's going to be fun as well," Joe said.

"I'm gonna be doing lot of stuff with the airlines in London to overcome my fear. And I will definitely fly again," he added.

Thomson said he will try to get home by Sep. 14 at the latest, when the new school semester begins. But whether his son can withstand the long journey, especially the sea voyages, is still of great concern.

If all goes well, they might catch some of the Paralympics, scheduled from Aug. 29 to Sept. 9, after missing the London Games.

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