Philippine Airlines to add hundreds more seats, as firms rally to bring stranded helpers home for Christmas
Cathay Pacific will also switch to larger planes, while cashless payments company TNG organises HK$500,000 giveaway to help victims get new tickets
Businesses are rallying around Hong Kong’s foreign domestic helpers with cash giveaways and other solutions to help fly people home after a ticketing fiasco at a local travel agency left up to 1,000 customers in the lurch.
Philippine Airlines announced that it would put on sale hundreds more tickets for those left without a seat after Peya Travel, a company specialising in flights for domestic helpers, sold air tickets that were not guaranteed, leaving customers stranded.
The country’s national airline said it would be using larger aircraft on December 22 and 23, primarily to get people out of Hong Kong in time for Christmas, and for flights returning on January 3 and 4 from Manila to Hong Kong.
“Our hearts go out to our stranded countrymen. We hope this gesture will serve as a means to help a number of them come home to the Philippines in time for Christmas Day,” Philippine Airlines president and chief operating officer Jaime J. Bautista said in a statement.
A 309-seat Airbus A330 will be used for selected flights instead of a 199-seat Airbus A321.
To ensure that only those affected by the Peya Travel issues will benefit, interested parties have been told to head to Philippine Airline’s Tsim Sha Tsui ticket office in East Ocean Centre building to get their tickets. They will need to bring proof that they were affected by the problem.
At 11am on Thursday, there were about 50 people lining up outside the Peya Travel office hoping to resolve their travel situation. The agency was not yet open at the time.
Philippine diplomats fear that up to 1,000 potential victims are involved.
The Philippine mission in Hong Kong has appealed for those affected to report their cases to the consulate on Thursday, so it can fully understand the scale of the situation and take action accordingly.
Until Sunday, TNG, the cashless payments company popular with domestic helpers for remittances, will give away HK$500,000 to help those affected pay for new flights. Each helper will receive a maximum gift of HK$1,000 so that at least 500 people can benefit.
The event is taking place at World-Wide House in Central at store address number 154.
The company said the money could be used to pay for flights, and helpers could withdraw cash at 7-Eleven stores. Only existing members of its wallet app qualify, the company said, and those applying must have proof they were affected by the ticketing issues.
At 4pm, 100 people had successfully registered for the cash gift.
Elizabeth Poradora, one of the first to sign up, said she had not resolved her flight situation yet. Her original ticket cost HK$4,200.
Poradora had harsh words for the owners of Peya Travel: “I am not really sad because maybe there is another purpose above me. I am not a loser. The people who take our money, they will be the loser. This is a curse for them, because a lot of people are affected, and they gained money from hardworking people.”
Maria Corazon Bayarcal said the TNG money would go towards another flight. Her original ticket on Cebu Pacific cost HK$3,000.
“This has affected me a lot. I lost a lot of my tears because I wanted to see my family and celebrate the vacation, but I cannot go home because the ticket had a problem,” she said.
Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific Airways said helpers could still get in touch to discuss alternative travel plans. The airline has been offering so-called “distress fares” since Tuesday to fill any remaining seats. It said it would add larger planes to make more seats available on its Manila route so more helpers could make it home for Christmas.
Budget airline Cebu Pacific, which flies from Philippine cities Manila, Cebu, Clark, Iloilo and Kalibo, said it was reviewing its options to figure out how to make additional tickets available.
The mess left by Peya Travel came to light just a week before Christmas. With flights left “unconfirmed” by the travel agency, the seats were unknowingly sold to other buyers.
Most flights on major airlines flying to the Philippines were sold out by the start of the week right up to Christmas Day, prompting distress from helpers who feared they would be unable to spend the festive period with their families. The price of a new air ticket is beyond the reach of many helpers, who earn a maximum of HK$4,410 a month.
The Post understands that travel agents from the Travel Industry Council are also looking at ways to help and potentially undo some of the damage to the industry’s reputation.
Need to know
Philippine consulate general
People registering their case and complaint must provide all useful documentation and identification. Cases can be reported to the consulate’s mission in Admiralty, at the United Centre, 14th floor, 95 Queensway.
Passengers should bring proof that they are affected by the Peya Travel issue to the Philippine Airlines ticket office at address: Shop No 6, ground floor, East Ocean Centre building, 98 Granville Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East in Kowloon.
Cathay Pacific Airways
Cathay Pacific urges domestic helpers who need to discuss options to get home to the Philippines to contact its call centre at 2747 3333 or send a private message via Twitter or Facebook.