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Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Hong Kong flight ticket fiasco means heartbreaking Christmas disappointment for young sons of Filipino domestic helper

Sharon Cevezo, 36, will not make it back home in time to enjoy rare free day out at Manila Ocean Park – a treat she would struggle to afford out of her own pocket

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 December, 2017, 10:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 December, 2017, 11:32am

For many Hong Kong children, a trip to a theme park is nothing new. Some even visit several times a year. But for domestic helper Sharon Cevezo, it is a luxury she cannot afford for her two sons.

So it was a Christmas miracle for the Filipino when her employer awarded her a free day out and a night in a hotel with her children, aged 16 and 13, at Manila Ocean Park in the Philippine capital.

The trio were set to enjoy the big day during Cevezo’s vacation back to her homeland for the holiday season. But hopes of a happy Christmas were dashed for the Ilocos Norte native when she found out on Tuesday that an air ticket home she had bought through Peya Travel, a Hong Kong agency specialising in flights popular with domestic helpers, did not exist.

Fearing she might not make it back in time for Christmas Day, she immediately booked another air ticket, but was unable to secure one to get her back before the theme park outing, set for Thursday.

“I’m very sad,” Cevezo, 36, said as tears rolled down her cheeks. Not being able to fulfil her promise to her children, to take them to the oceanarium, was a bitter blow, she said.

Christmas blow for domestic helpers in Hong Kong as flights home don’t exist

According to the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong, Cevezo is just one of up to 1,000 people affected by the flight ticket fiasco at Peya Travel, which sold air tickets that were not guaranteed. The debacle left customers turning up at Hong Kong airport only to be told they had no seat.

While there was nothing much Cevezo could do to mend her children’s broken hearts, the domestic worker was still hoping to at least get a refund on the lost ticket.

She paid HK$4,500 for the original trip home. After losing that seat she was forced to ask her employer to lend her money for the second flight, booked on Tuesday with Philippine Airlines.

“That cost another HK$4,700. My employer paid for it first, but I have to pay her back through future deductions to my salary,” she said.

Cathay Pacific hopes to bring Christmas miracle for domestic helpers stranded in Hong Kong by Peya Travel fiasco

With the majority of Filipinos following Christianity, Christmas is a major time for family gatherings.

Seeing the plight of the helpers, several organisations have stepped in to offer help. Besides Philippines Airlines and Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific, which have offered hundreds of discounted seats to those affected, TNG, a cashless payment company for remittances, is giving away HK$1,000 each to 500 helpers.

Franki Exchange, which is based at World-Wide House, a building in the downtown Hong Kong district of Central where Peya Travel is also located, has offered HK$100 to every victim of the disruption.

Philippine Airlines to add hundreds more seats, as firms rally to bring stranded helpers home for Christmas

The owner of the money exchange firm said it was a small gesture to do what he could to help. He added that if the Philippine president appealed to him to hand out more, he would up that offer to HK$1,000 each.