Free flights to Philippines for domestic helpers in Hong Kong caught up in Peya Travel fiasco
Philippine government announces it will pay for return flights, but applicants need to register by Saturday
The Philippine government on Friday guaranteed free flights to ensure its workforce of Hong Kong domestic helpers would get back for Christmas after a travel agency botched flight bookings home.
Officials from the Philippine consulate were set to work overtime on Saturday to handle more helpers they expected to come forward to claim their free flight.
Flag carrier Philippine Airlines will upgrade its Christmas morning flight PR301 from Hong Kong to Manila to a larger aircraft. The consulate was on Friday consolidating efforts to get as many people as possible on that service, but helpers would need to register by Saturday.
Diplomats meanwhile were still pushing for the Hong Kong police to probe the travel fiasco, which saw scores of Filipinos turn up at Hong Kong airport this week only to be told their bookings did not exist. A meeting between the two parties was expected soon.
Hong Kong’s Customs and Excise Department said it would probe Peya Travel’s sales practices, adding more woes to the company’s pile of problems.
“If we find anyone breaching the Trade Descriptions Ordinance, we will take appropriate action,” a spokesman said.
Hong Kong flight ticket fiasco means heartbreaking Christmas disappointment for young sons of Filipino domestic helper
Some 506 people had come forward as of Friday evening as victims of the Filipino and Australian-run travel agency, according to complaints collected by the consulate.
Earlier on Friday, Philippine budget airline Cebu Pacific gave away 50 tickets to assist with Christmas travel plans.
According to a source close to the situation, the Philippine military was still one option on the table to get people home for the festive season. But calling on a Hercules C-130 plane to airlift their countrymen and women home was an idea unlikely to get off the ground, the source added, since foreign military missions would need Beijing’s approval to land on Chinese soil.
For some of those affected by the debacle, the free flights offer had come too late.
One domestic helper, who declined to be named, expressed anguish at the prospect of having to repay her boss after the employer bought her a second air ticket when the first one failed to materialise. They wouldn’t have purchased the latter seat if they had known about the government giveaway.
In Belinda Fabe’s case, with her free Manila flight on Cebu Pacific set to take off in the evening of Christmas Day, she still had to find a connecting flight to Dumaguete in the south of the country, a problem many other helpers faced.
“At the time I booked my tickets with Peya, I didn’t tell my family as I wanted to surprise them, but it was Peya Travel who surprised us,” she said.
Charlyn Onsing faced a similar problem. She paid for an extra air ticket – worth HK$3,700 – to fly on December 26. The sum was hefty when measured against an average domestic helper salary of HK$4,310 a month.
“I went to the Philippine Airlines office to see if I could cancel my ticket and take the free flight opportunity and go home earlier. The airline said they could not do anything because the flight was paid for. I am very disappointed right now. I just don’t know what else to do but cry,” Onsing said.
Asked if helpers could be reimbursed for air tickets booked privately, the Philippine consulate said it was a possibility but that was a discussion for a later date. The priority was getting people home, officials said.
Cathay Pacific hopes to bring Christmas miracle for domestic helpers stranded in Hong Kong by Peya Travel fiasco
Domestic helpers started panic-buying air tickets in the days after the Peya Travel fiasco came to light in a bid to get home. Airlines were initially fully booked but responded by laying on bigger aircraft to carry more people. The distress of possibly missing Christmas prompted many to buy tickets in haste.
Peya Travel on Thursday apologised to customers on its Facebook page and confirmed it would make refunds available – but was short on details.
However, not all customers affected will be eligible for the refunds, the Post can reveal.
Peya Travel claimed some customers had simply failed to check their booking details properly and missed their flights.
But Onsing had a clear message for the travel agency’s owners.
“They cheated me a first time, and then the Facebook message they posted was another cheat,” she said. “We can’t reply to the message. If they want to give refunds, they need to face the people they hurt one by one.”
Additional reporting by Christy Leung