By Ben Garcia
KUWAIT: Filipino domestic helpers are delaying their vacations to return to their families due to a steep rise in airfare to the Philippines. The cheapest tickets to Manila these days are around KD 670, reaching up to KD 3,435. Many domestic helpers are complaining their annual vacations are already long overdue, but their employers do not want to buy the pricey tickets.
Travel agencies told Kuwait Times that prices of airline tickets to Manila from Kuwait will only fall to pre-pandemic levels once the Philippine government allows airline companies to add more capacity or removes the travel quota. Currently, the Philippines allows only 2,500 passengers daily, up from 1,500 in April and 2,000 passengers in May.
Speaking to Kuwait Times, Dadabhai Travel Agency Brand Manager Paulita Lundang said the spike in airfares to Manila is due to the quota implemented by the Philippine government, adding thousands of Kuwaiti employers are complaining about the incredible amounts they have to spend to send their domestic helpers to the Philippines.
“We cannot do anything about the price of airline tickets. I think the airlines also want to reduce their fares, but they cannot do so easily, as they also have to pay their pilots and crews,” Lundang said. “Prices will go down soon, especially when the Philippines removes restrictions from airlines. Before we could only carry up to 35 passengers, which later increased to 50, to 90 passengers now. If these restrictions are removed, airlines will cut prices,” she said.
According to Lundang, for some countries that did not restrict their airports, airfares are almost back to normal. “Look at India and Bangladesh – airfares are still high compared to pre-pandemic levels, but they are somehow reasonable,” she said. Lundang said the Philippine government is assisting its citizens by sending chartered flights to Kuwait to get distressed workers out free of charge, but the quarterly chartered flights are not enough.
“Besides chartered flights, the Philippine government also arranges special monthly flights to Manila. Filipinos are given a 50 percent discount on these special flights, so the regular ticket price of KD 670 is reduced to KD 295 only. The special flights are arranged by the Philippine Labor Office, while the chartered flights are arranged by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs,” she explained.
Some Filipino domestic helpers are not being allowed by their sponsors to go on vacation to the Philippines due to the sky-high ticket prices. “I was planning to go on vacation, but my sponsor said I have to wait for some time because tickets are insanely expensive,” said Mary Grace Montacir, a domestic helper from Iloilo.
“I was supposed to take leave to be with my family last year, but it was delayed due to COVID-19. My boss told me to go this February, but cases of the Delta variant increased from that month, so my plan was put on hold again. They then said I could maybe go home by November, but when I asked them again, they said it’s not the best time because tickets are too expensive, so my leave was put on hold again,” she said.
Her problem is similar to Gina Morales’, who hails from Surala South Cotabato. She was supposed to go on vacation two years back. “I normally go back every two years as promised by my boss. In 2019, when I was supposed to go home, I decided to travel in March 2020, but the pandemic began and I was not able to leave. My family was understanding, but now it’s 2021 and soon 2022.
How can I go home when airfares are too high? My employers said prices of tickets are very high, and told me to wait,” she said. Besides exorbitant airfares, all arriving overseas Filipino workers are subjected to 14 days of hotel quarantine arranged free of charge by the Philippine government (eight days only for vaccinated passengers).