Virgin Australia is retreating from plans to offer ex-service men and women priority boarding and in-flight praise, after the US-style proposal was panned by veterans’ groups.
Virgin said it was a genuine gesture to pay respect to those who had served the nation, but the airline was “very mindful” of the response to its announcement over the weekend.
“Over the coming months, we will consult with community groups and our own team members who have served in defence to determine the best way forward,” the airline said in a statement on Monday.
“If this process determines that public acknowledgement of their service through optional priority boarding or any announcement is not appropriate, then we will certainly be respectful of that.”
Neil James, from the Australia Defence Association, said Virgin’s idea “smacked of tokenism” and veterans would much prefer practical action over public praise.
“If you really wanted to thank veterans you’d reinstate the service discount abolished in the early 1980s,” he said.
“Some veterans would be embarrassed by this — in fact, many would be — and some of them with psychological conditions, you actually risk making their problem worse.”
Mr James said the airline’s idea was a symptom of a deeper problem.
“That is, there are so few Australians now with any understanding of military service and war,” he said.
“Ideas like this float to the top, whereas in the old days when nearly every family had someone who had served in the defence force, common sense would have cut in a lot earlier.”
One Nation leader Pauline Hanson described the proposal as an “embarrassing” marketing ploy.
“I wish they would concentrate on some of these airports to get your luggage out first and make sure you don’t get your luggage lost,” she told the Seven Network.
Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek said public praise for veterans needed to be backed up by “fundamental and sincere” action.
“This sort of acknowledgement from businesses is no substitute for properly caring for our veterans when they return,” she said.
“Making sure that their health needs are met, that they’re able to find work, that that work reflects the capabilities they’ve gained in their serving careers.”
Qantas baulked at calls to follow Virgin’s lead.
“We’re conscious that we carry a lot of exceptional people every day, including veterans, police, paramedics, nurses, firefighters and others,” the airline said.
“And so we find it difficult to single out a particular group as part of the boarding process.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Industry Minister Steve Ciobo praised Virgin’s proposal.
However, Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester acknowledged some veterans would be uneasy about the extra attention.
“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.”