A mother from the Lothians has revealed the “hell” she is experiencing with her young family while stranded in Egypt during the coronavirus lockdown.
Emma Millington, 29, has been stuck in Hurghada with her boyfriend and two children, Ethan and Skylar, for 50 days.
The family flew out for a two-week holiday on 16 March – one day before the Foreign Office advised against all non essential overseas travel. They haven’t been able to return home since due to Covid-19 stalling all travel.
Emma, from Penicuik in Midlothian, said the four have experienced “hellish” living conditions in a villa while trying to find somewhere to stay until they can get a flight home.
“We are just so desperate to get back to the UK,” the mum-of-two said.
“Ethan is only seven and he’s covered in bites. He has autism and isn’t dealing with the situation well at all.
“We flew out here for Skylar’s 10th birthday and she’s just miserable, I can see the bones poking through her arms she’s lost so much weight since being out here.”
Emma is out of work and her boyfriend, Darren McDougall, a scaffolder, has been furloughed.
The family are relying on Emma’s sister Ashley Millington, who is an NHS nurse in the Lothians, to wire them money.
“We don’t have much money and have been having to loan from my sister who has been just amazing helping us through this, despite working so hard on the frontline back home,” Emma said.
The mum-of-two said the family are having to ration food, and she finds it difficult going to shops due to fear of coronavirus, which has also impacted the area.
After the family’s package holiday deal ran out on March 29, they were asked to leave the Titanic Royal hotel where they were staying.
Emma, who has been struggling with her mental health, said the four were then offered three days accommodation by Loveholidays, who they booked the trip with.
But the exhausted mum declined, instead choosing to find something more permanent during their wait for a flight home.
‘Unlivable’ conditions in villa
After posting a plea on Facebook, a local man contacted Emma to offer a villa to stay in for free.
“It was a lovely gesture and we took up his offer due to our financial situation,” she said.
“But the living conditions were terrible.”
“There was no running water, cockroaches everywhere and no windows, so during sandstorms it was unbearable.”
Emma said she still wants to thank the man for his gesture because they were struggling to find places to stay at the time, but the conditions were too difficult to live in for her and her children.
In messages seen by The Edinburgh Evening News, Emma contacted the travel agent mid-April asking for help again re-finding better accommodation.
A staff member replied asking for details of prices of resorts that the family had found and said: “Once we have this information we may be able to consider some sort of gesture of goodwill, however, I can’t guarantee this.”
In a phone recording, another customer service assistant can be heard saying it is not the travel company’s responsibility to get customers home.
“It might not be their responsibility but I just felt very abandoned, to be honest,” Emma said.
“They have provided us with somewhere now but it took a few weeks and it’s only until May 20.
“I am just so worried we are going to be homeless again.”
Rescue flights too expensive
Emma and her family have attempted to book commercial flights back to the UK but they keep getting cancelled.
The distressed mother said she was advised by Loveholidays to book onto a rescue flight from Cairo to London on April 12, but she couldn’t afford the cost.
In a screenshot seen by The Edinburgh Evening News, repatriation flights from Cairo to London in mid-April were about £560 each, which would have ended up costing the family more than £2,000 just to get to London.
“We just don’t have that sort of money lying around, or anyone we can borrow that from,” said Emma.
“Loveholidays offered to pay for transfer costs to Cairo, but there’s no financial support for the actual flight out and I really don’t want to be stranded with the children in Cairo.
The family’s car is still at Manchester airport, where they flew from, and Emma’s two dogs are currently at a dog sitter.
“I know it’s a global pandemic, but for weeks I didn’t feel very supported by Loveholidays. They still have the money we paid for this trip so I hoped for a bit more from them. I sent the company messages in mid-March and it was so bad at getting back to me,” Emma said.
“It’s been hell just getting to this resort we are now in.
“We had to look for it which wasn’t easy and the travel company just said it would cover costs.”
Loveholidays claim the first contact they had from the family is March 31, but in messages seen by The Scotsman it’s clear Emma had been in touch asking for help since March 19.
The family were recently booked onto a flight with the original airline that flew them out to Egypt – Turkish Airlines – for May 20, but it has been cancelled.
Emma said since contacting the media, Loveholidays has been more responsive in helping her and she is now in touch with the UK embassy about applying for a loan to cover the rescue flight scheduled this month.
A Loveholidays spokeswoman said: "We first heard from her on March 31 and our advice, consistent with all customers, was to register with the embassy in Egypt and await updates on rescue flights.
“The customer declined help from Loveholidays for alternative accommodation initially and insisted that alternative flights should be booked for her return which she was advised we were unable to do.
“In an event like this we are reliant on the government working with airlines to organise repatriation flights as commercial flights are being consistently cancelled."
She said a short-term accommodation option was flagged to the family and the company suggested Emma book the four of them on the UK rescue flight scheduled for April 12.
Loveholidays would then cover transfer costs to Cairo and provide accommodation leading up to that flight.
She added:"We contacted Emma again on April 13 to ensure she had arrived home and were informed that they did not take the rescue flight.
“We again explained that we cannot arrange a rescue flight and that they needed to organise this with the embassy directly.
“The customer has attempted to book commercial flights via easyJet to get home but the first flight she booked for May 7 was cancelled.
“We had managed to alter her original flight home with Turkish airlines to the 20th May as a fallback, but that has also been cancelled, so we are in contact with the embassy in Egypt regarding any other options.
"The accommodation that Ms Russell is currently staying in is being paid for by Loveholidays and we will continue to offer support to the customer until she is able to return home.
“A refund for the return flights with Turkish Airlines has been requested and this will be passed on to Ms Russell once received."
Loveholidays stressed help was offered to the family and it "did offer to cover accommodation costs and transfer costs to assist the family as there were no direct flights."
The spokeswoman added: "In these unprecedented times, we are looking to help our customers as best we can and need to be consistent relying on the processes and procedures the government has put in place to repatriate British nationals home from abroad.”
Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.
In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news on this free-to-read site, I am asking you to also please purchase a copy of our newspaper.
Our journalists are highly trained and our content is independently regulated by IPSO to some of the most rigorous standards in the world. But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. So we need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.
With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our local valued advertisers - and consequently the advertising that we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news and information by buying a copy of our newspaper.