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Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

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

Air tickets cannot be confirmed, meaning travellers who have been turning up at the airport have discovered they do not have a seat on a plane

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 December, 2017, 7:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2017, 10:55am

Travel plans for scores of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong who were hoping to return home for Christmas and New Year have been thrown into disarray as the flights they paid for do not exist.

Air tickets bought through Peya Travel, an agency specialising in flights popular with domestic helpers, could not be confirmed, meaning travellers who have been turning up at the airport since Sunday have discovered they did not have a seat on a plane.

The company has given few answers and even fewer cast-iron guarantees but customers fear the firm is in financial difficulties.

On Tuesday, as word spread that the travel agency was in trouble, a confused and angry crowd crammed into – and spilled out of – the agency’s tiny cubicle shop in World-Wide House in Central to demand answers, refunds and rebooking alternatives.

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Those hit believed anywhere between 200 and 1,000 people were affected. Customers who sought help in-store were told by the agency there was no guarantee they would receive refunds for flights – with no explanations given.

Gina Aplaon, who was supposed to travel back to Manila on Thursday, discovered her flight booking was not confirmed. She paid HK$3,200 for her ticket home in September.

“I found there is no confirmation for my flight and there is no booking from this agent, so I am here to complain about what is going on,” she said.

“Of course, we are all very upset with what happened because we want to see our families but now it’s gone, we don’t know if we can go back to the Philippines this Christmas.”

The travel agency has been contacted for comment but, according to reports, it has blamed unspecified technical difficulties for the glitch that has seen people miss their flights already.

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Despite claims that “hundreds” of customers have been rebooked on to new flights, there has been no evidence of that and no refunds processed and money returned.

The fear for potential victims is that as Christmas fast approaches, seats are in short supply and those left are very expensive.

“My flight is already cancelled, there is no [flight to get on],” said Luningning Perez, who had expected to travel to Manila on a Philippines Airlines flight on Wednesday.

“I tried to talk to them directly, can you give me assurances that you will refund my money, and they said “no”. I think they don’t have money. Yesterday, the travel agency said they had a problem with their systems. Again, they said we can rebook you but we can’t give you assurances [you will travel].

A teary Melissa Tamondong said: “We don’t have the money, now I can’t afford to buy a new ticket already and flights are also fully booked. How can we go home? As of now, we can’t do anything. All of us are crying. All of our family are expecting us.”

Philippine Airlines had a flexible economy class ticket for December 24, the earliest date available, for HK$4,630 (US$594), returning on January 4.

No economy class tickets were available on Cathay Pacific, which flies several times a day to Manila.

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However, a business class seat was available on December 25 for HK$7,900.

Police turned up at the travel shop where helpers practically begged for assistance but the two officers in attendance said they could do nothing as it was not a criminal matter. They suggested that those affected file a complaint.

The Philippine consulate in the city said in statement on Tuesday it was “deeply concerned” over the incident. It “expects Peya Travel to take responsibility for this unfortunate incident and take all possible and necessary steps to settle this matter to the satisfaction of the aggrieved parties”.

It said it would continue to monitor and liaise with the relevant Hong Kong authorities.

A police spokesman said they had received several reports that flight tickets bought from a Central travel agency had become invalid. The force said it is treating the case as a “request for a police investigation.” A police source said seven cases had been received as of 6.30pm.