Virgin Australia to reconsider veteran plan after mixed public reaction

Virgin Australia Terminal Adelaide Airport (YPAD/ADL) taken by Bryan Pearce on 8 September 2017

There has been a mixed reaction by Virgin Australia’s announcement Sunday to give priority boarding and on-board acknowledgement to veterans. Qantas has already ruled out following suit.

The move comes after a campaign by Australia’s largest media company, News Corporation Australia – a News Corp subsidiary. The campaign has also been supported by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, leader of the conservative party. Guardian Australia says News Corp has been using #ThanksForServing as a part of the campaign, which is, “a movement to acknowledge the service of veterans, past and present, and the sacrifice of their families”.

Virgin Australia CEO, John Borghetti told News Corp, “We acknowledge the important contribution veterans have made to keeping our country safe and the role they play in our community. Once the veterans have their cards and lapel pins [recently announced by the government], they will simply need to present them during the boarding process to be given priority boarding and be recognised on board.”

Australia’s Veteran’s Affairs Minister, Darren Chester told ABC’s Insiders that he welcomed the announcement, but that many veterans would prefer discounted airfares. “Australians, by nature, tend to keep their light under a bushel. Some would be happy to get on the plane without anyone knowing they are there.”

Veteran and Lowy Institute’s research fellow, Roger Shanahan wrote an opinion piece in The Guardian Australian criticising the move. Mr Shanahan’s says, “There seems to be this disturbing desire to attach yourself to this term ‘veterans’. I would much prefer we recognised veterans in a laidback way, and we do that through Anzac Day. I don’t want to be thanked for my service. I gave them good service and they looked after me.”

Prime Minister Morrison and Defence Industry Minister Steven Ciobo welcomed the move. Minister Ciobo told Sky News, “I want to congratulate Virgin for, in many respects, being a trailblazer. I think it’s tremendous that they come on board and that they honour and salute the service of those men and women who have served our nation in uniform putting themselves in harm’s way.” He further added that he hoped Qantas would follow the move.

However, the Australian Defence Association (ADA) believes the move “lacks commonsense.” Executive Director of the ADA, Neil James told ABC Radio the move was tokenistic and “the first problem is that there’s other forms of service to the community … like policemen and ambos, and so would you actually start a queue of such announcements? That’s a real worry.” The Guardian also quotes Mr James as saying, “it would be better to improve the practical assistance veterans need rather than increase tokenism.”

The Guardian goes on to say that Mr James said a US style of thanking veterans probably wouldn’t work well in Australia. “There’s a fine line between embarrassing them and thanking them and, in some cases, where they’re suffering a psychological illness, effusively thanking them in public might not necessarily help them.”

Decorated former Australia military officer, Catherine McGregor, called the move “faux-American bollocks” in a tweet.

Independant right wing politician, Senator Pauline Hanson told Channel 7’s Sunrise program, “I have worked with veterans and I think they would find it embarrassing. I think it is a marketing ploy by Virgin. I don’t think veterans want to use priority boarding.” Independant Senator Derryn Hinch, often a critic of Pauline Hanson also told the program, “A lot of veterans don’t want to draw that sort of attention.”

Meanwhile Qantas said. “We have utmost respect for current and former Defence Force personnel, and we honour their service in a few ways during the year, including special announcements on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day, and through our partnership with the Australian War Memorial. We’re conscious that we carry a lot of exceptional people every day, including veterans, police, paramedics, nurses, firefighters and others, and so we find it difficult to single out a particular group as part of the boarding process.”

Virgin started backing away from the move on Monday, issuing a series of tweets saying they will consult with community groups and their team members over the coming months.