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Scores of PEYA customers stranded, held up at airport

18 December 2017

Irate customers flock to the Worldwide Plaza office of Peya Travel.

By The SUN

Around 200 Filipinos, mostly foreign domestic workers on their way home to the Philippines for the Christmas holidays, were left stranded or held up at Chek Lap Kok airport over the past two days when their tickets issued by Peya Travel were not honored at the check-in counters.

The scenario could recur in the next few days ahead of Christmas, as hundreds more Filipinos who could have booked with Peya prepare to go home to spend their much-awaited vacation with family members.

Most of the stranded passengers said they were told by airline staff that the travel agency had failed to pay for their tickets, but Peya’s management blamed the fiasco on a technical glitch.

Peya’s owner Rhea Donna Boyce, told The SUN via online chat that she discovered the booking problem on Saturday and “I was really furious about it,” she said, without going into details.

Boyce said she managed to rebook the tickets on Sunday of around 100 passengers who were unable to board their flights, even if it meant paying $3,200 for each one-way ticket to Manila. She said the return tickets issued to them by Peya cost only $2,080 each.

But today, around the same number of passengers encountered the same problem, and many of them descended on the Peya office on the third floor of World Wide Plaza in Central to complain, some with police in tow.

The travel agency’s staff members were so unnerved by the invasion of the irate customers that they walked out on their jobs, leaving only the sales director, Arnold Grospe, to deal with the complaints.

The angry passengers included Belen, an OFW from Bicol who was on her way home for the burial of her father-in-law, which had already been postponed for five days to await her arrival.

Belen, like many others who could not board their flights on Monday, was furious because her relatives had rented a vehicle so they could pick her up at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila for her scheduled arrival at 8pm so they could get to Bicol in time for the burial.

Belen rushed to PEYA’s office at mid-afternoon after finding out about the fiasco at the check-in counter, and was verging on tears as she angrily demanded her money back.

“May emergency kami tapos ganito pa ang nangyari. Ibalik nila ang pera ko,” she said, adding that the $5,000 she had paid for her ticket was her last money, and did not know where to get more cash to buy a new one.

Another was Perla Santos, who went to HK International Airport early as she was supposed to leave on the 7:50am flight of Philippine Airlines, but was shocked to learn that she was not on the list of passengers.

After fuming for hours at the airport, she decided to just book a 7:20pm flight to Clark Airport aboard Cebu Pacific so she would at least arrive home within the same day.

Like Belen, her relatives had hired a vehicle to pick her up in Manila, but on learning that she failed to board her scheduled flight,  they decided to go back home to Pampanga. They told her to just call them when her plane had landed in Clark.

Another customer, Vhie Azares Endaya, said she was concerned about her children who had been preparing to fetch her at the airport in Legaspi City, because she would miss her 10pm flight tonight. “Actually, my employer would be happy that I would not be leaving,” she added.

“Hindi birong pagod,gutom at puyat ang binuno namin para kitain ang pinambili namin ng ticket na yan kahit pa napakamahal makasama lang namin pamilya namin,” she said later in a Facebook post.

Many furious passengers swarmed over Grospe, demanding a return of their money.

“Bakit, anong nangyari? Ibalik nyo ngayon din ang pera namin para makabili kami ng panibagong ticket. Naghihintay na ang mga anak ko sa airport,” an angry OFW who rushed back to Central from the airport along with her luggage shouted.

Grospe, who frantically tried to help file applications to refund the tickets of the passengers, told The SUN he was unsure what had caused their bookings to disappear from their system.  “Parang na-virus,” he said.

The affected passengers were mostly on Philippine Airlines and Cathay Pacific flights; they were booked but not confirmed. He also found out, upon checking, that some of the passengers on Cebu Pacific had confirmed flights. 

Grospe offered to process refund claims as a crowd filled the Peya office, asking them to leave copies of their booking form, receipt and HK identification card to support their applications.

But he added that he could not promise the complainants when or how much refund would be paid.

At any one time, about 20 irate customers crowded in front of Grospe, who listened to their complaints and assured them they would get rebooked, or get their money back.

Earlier in the day, complainants called police who sent investigators and made inquiries.

The Travel Industry Council (TIC) also sent staff to inquire about complaints it had received. It was not yet known what actions TIC will take but a search of the directory of travel agents indicates that Peya is still listed.

“They (TIC) know about this already. We have reported this to them,” Grospe told an employer who inquired on behalf of her helper who missed her flight today.

TIC is the government agency that issues licenses to travel agencies. It also administers the Travel Industry Compensation Fund, under which up to 90 per cent of the cost of the tickets could be recovered in case the issuing travel agency closes, as long as these payments include its 0.15 per cent levy on the cost of air tickets.

The scene at the airport is no less chaotic.
Some of those who came back from the Hong Kong International Airport said there was a bigger crowd of OFWs there who were unable to leave because their names were not on the flight manifest of either PAL, Cathay Pacific or Cebu Pacific.

PAL’s country manager, Leah Nicolas, was also at a loss when asked what could have gone wrong with Peya’s bookings, but said that as far as the airline is concerned, “the tickets were not issued”.

Nicolas said that PAL does not get bookings directly from Peya, as it is not accredited with IATA (International Air Travel Association). That means Peya had to go through an accredited agency to get the airline to issue the tickets, which did not happen.

“But in the past, we have had passengers booked through Peya and we didn’t have this kind of problem, so this is really strange, ” Nicolas said.

Asked if it was possible for PAL to deploy extra flights to accommodate the hundreds of mainly overseas Filipino workers who made their bookings through Peya and are scheduled to depart within the week, Nicolas said she could try asking.

“We can check but there’s a big demand for our aircraft right now because of the holiday season,” she said.

Nevertheless, Nicolas said she would send a staff member to Peya to inquire how they could help ease the burden on the affected passengers. 

Many of the passengers who had been bumped off their flights also sought help from the Consulate, to ask if they could take action.

But the Consulate’s acting head of post, Roderick Atienza, said “There’s really not much that we can do at this stage because we still don’t know what really happened. The culpability or lack of it by the agency still has to be established.”

Nevertheless, he said he expected the agency to “fix the mess”, and that the Consulate will continue to monitor the situation to make sure the affected OFWs get appropriate help.

Among those who sought the Consulate’s  help was Ma Teresa Macatangay who told the assistance to nationals section that when she checked her PAL flight on Dec. 22 which she booked through Peya she was told that her booking had not been confirmed.

Macatangay said she paid $3,700 for her return air ticket originally, and was asked by Peya to pay an additional $1,700 when she rebooked her return to Jan. 2. She was angry that despite shelling out so much money, her hope of spending the holiday season with her loved ones now look uncertain.

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