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PAL, Cathay extend help to stranded Peya clients

21 December 2017

Peya's office in World Wide Plaza was shut on the third day of the ticketing scandal
(photo by Vir Lumicao)
By The SUN Staff

The two major airlines serving the Hong Kong to Manila route have stepped forward to extend help to hundreds of overseas Filipino workers who got caught in a ticketing fiasco involving Peya Travel.

Both Philippine Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways have announced plans to send bigger aircraft to Hong Kong over the Christmas holiday crunch to help Peya customers who were unable to fly home because they were issued only itineraries and not air tickets.

In addition, Cathay has started selling so-called “distress tickets” at discounted prices to an undetermined number of OFWs who got caught in the mess. The tickets, which are reportedly being sold for as low as $1,300 each, will be for seats that are still available on Cathay flights departing for Manila from between Dec. 21 to 31.

“For Filipino friends affected by the issues related to a HK travel agent not affiliated with us, we stand ready to help as much as we can,” Cathay posted on its Twitter account on Tuesday. It urged distressed passengers to explore their options by contacting its call centre at 2747 3333 or use Twitter or Facebook to send a private message.

In its own statement issued a day later, PAL said it would be using larger aircraft to flight to and from Hong Kong on Dec. 22 and 23, and on Jan 3 next year...”in order to give the stranded Filipino domestic workers an opportunity to avail of seats out of Hong Kong.”

The statement quoted PAL’s President and COO Jaime J. Bautista as saying: “Our hearts go 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.”

Cebu Pacific, another airline with regular daily flights between Hong Kong and Manila or Clark, has reportedly said it was also looking at ways to help the stranded Filipinos. However, its flights to the Philippines in the remaining four days before Christmas are all full.

In the meantime, Peya’s office on the third floor of Worldwide Plaza was shut yesterday, Dec. 20, after the Travel Agents Registry reportedly revoked its license “temporarily”. The Travel Industry Council, which regulates the operation of travel agencies, also suspended Peya’s membership for the meantime.

For two days previously, Peya’s sales and marketing director Arnold Grospe single handedly braved the wrath of customers demanding a refund, or an explanation as to why the agency left them in a lurch at the busiest time of the year.

The Consulate has also begun taking action, by asking Peya customers who failed to board flights they were supposed to be on, to come forward and file a complaint.

As of the close of business hours on Wednesday, a total of  131 Peya customers had taken heed of the Consulate’s call.

However, the number of affected passengers is believed to range from 500 to a lot more, as Peya was a favorite booking agent among Filipinos in Hong Kong.

Vice Consul Bob Quintin who heads the assistance to nationals section, said he had talked to both Grospe and Peya owner and managing director Rhea Donna Boyce, but did not get much.

Quintin said he urged the two to come out and answer queries to resolve the issue. But the two Peya executives reportedly stuck to their story that a system glitch had prevented air tickets being issued to their clients.

Grospe was held for questioning at the Central Waterfront station Tuesday night, but was released without charges being laid.

Peya Travel subsequently posted an apology on its Facebook page, and said it was doing its best to help the affected customers. However, there was no mention of how or when it intends to extend help.

At the Philippine Airlines office in Tsimshatsui East, more than 100 would-be passengers had their supposed bookings checked, only to be told their bookings had been cancelled because the payment didn’t come.

A woman who said her flight was booked for Dec 19 inquired about the next available flight and staff at the PAL counter told her there was one seat available on Dec 24 but it was business class “and it’s very expensive”.

Some Filipinas who were called ahead of her bought new tickets, saying they had to dip deep into their savings, while others said their employers had given them ticket money again.

Despite the number of unwitting victims in the ticketing scandal, Hong Kong Police said they were not about to file charges against anyone.

“The cases were classified as a ‘dispute’ and we passed all of them to the Travel Industry Council,” the spokesman said.

Other companies have jumped into the fray by offering various ways to help the affected workers.

TNG, which calls itself as a “cashless remittance agency, announced it had set up a $500,000 fund for its members who got caught in the Peya fiasco.
Each TNG member who manages to prove booking their flights through the discredited agency will be given $1,000 to help them buy the pricey holiday tickets to the Philippines.

A number of Central-based travel agencies catering to Filipinos have also stepped forward, offering to help OFWs book their flights.

Among them was Filipino (HK) Travel Services, which urged affected passengers to visit its office on the third floor of Worldwide Plaza to avail of the extra seats that the airlines are offering.

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