DUBAI // The mother of a schoolboy who has been grounded by a severe fear of flying plans to travel to Europe to meet her son and husband as they return to the UK by road.
Joe Thompson, 11, has been stranded in the Emirates for more than a month after he developed the phobia.
His family is returning home after living in Al Ain for several years, but while his mother Pauline and sister Chloe, 16, have already made the move, he has stayed behind with his father Tony.
Volkswagen stepped in with an offer to supply cars and drivers to take the pair home, travelling across Saudi Arabia to the Red Sea port city of Jeddah. They will travel from there by ferry and make their way overland through Europe.
Tony and Joe have obtained the Saudi visas they need to embark on the 5,600-kilometre trip, and are waiting for Volkswagen to finalise the route and decide on a departure date.
Volkswagen Middle East confirmed it was working on the itinerary. "Joe's so excited about it. It's the trip of a lifetime for him," Pauline said from the family's home in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.
"He's going to keep a diary and take loads of photos so he'll have it to look back on. I'm hoping to go out and meet them when they get to Europe."
Pauline, 49, said she found it difficult to have the family separated by Joe's phobia as she had hoped they would all go home together.
"It's just a case of having to be patient," she added. "Things are moving along in the right direction. Hopefully in the next couple of days we'll know the itinerary and when they're going to be leaving, and then we'll be able to put timelines on things.
"I just want them to get under way and start heading back."
Pauline said she had no idea about the cause of Joe's phobia.
"He's been flying since he was a baby," she said. "We've always gone abroad on holiday, even before we lived out in the UAE.
"Normally he would get on the plane, get his games out, watch films and it wouldn't bother him at all. It's just something that's come on.
"There were no telltale signs, nothing to forewarn us that this was going to happen."
She said Joe was fine in the car as they drove to the airport, but when he saw the check-in desk he became distressed and started crying.
"When you get to the airport he absolutely falls to pieces," Pauline said. "He says 'I can't do this'. We try to give him reasons why it's OK, he doesn't need to be frightened, but you can't rationalise with him.
"Once you take him out of that situation he completely changes. He completely switches back to his normal, easy-going self. We've had loads of offers of help from hypnotherapists and people like that.
"He wants to fly again. He's as baffled as we are. When we get him home, get him into school and get him settled we'll try to tackle this problem any way we can."
Tony said: "With Eid coming up there are some challenges finding suitable ferries that are actually operating from Jeddah, so
Volkswagen are looking at all that at the moment. Hopefully in the next few days we'll have a plan.
"The key thing is we have the Saudi visas and are ready to go. It'll take two or three days to get across Saudi and then we'll be on our way."