Virgin Australia will give military veterans priority boarding and an inflight thanks, but plenty of vets are embarrassed

  • Virgin Australia will wants to acknowledge veterans on flights and let them board first.
  • Multiple prominent veterans dismissed the proposal as embarrassing, saying they’d prefer discounts on airfares.
  • Qantas says it won’t follow suit as its hard to single out certain groups when so many people serve the community.

Virgin Australia’s plan to give military veterans priority boarding and special in-flight announcements has been described by many former service personnel as embarrassing and “bollocks”.

After the Morrison government announced plans last week for a new discount card for veterans and lapel pin, Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti said the airline wanted to “acknowledge the important contribution veterans have made to keeping our country safe”.

“Once the veterans have their cards and lapel pins, they will simply need to present them during the boarding process to be given priority boarding and be recognised onboard,” he said.

The proposal echoes similar acknowledgment in the US, although some carriers also offer discounts to veterans.

While the move was welcomed by the federal government, with Defence Industry Minister Steven Ciobo telling Sky News it was “part of reinforcing respect in the Australian community for these men and women,” many of those who served derided the move as a marketing gimmick.

Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester told ABC TV that Australians “tend to keep their light under a bushel” and vets would probably prefer discounted airfares.

RSL groups say they move could help aging veterans board flights.

Veterans advocate Ray Martin wouldn’t mind a free drink and they don’t need priority.

Catherine McGregor, who served in both with both the chiefs of the RAAF and Army, was similarly dismissive calling Virgin’s move, despite being a Platinum member, saying she just joins the queue and it’s “faux American bollocks”.

Rodger Shanahan, a veteran and now a Research Fellow at Lowy Institute, in a column last week into response to a media campaign with the hashtag #thanksforserving, said “we are in danger of reaching ‘peak veteran’,” and he finds the proposals “trite and embarrassing”.

Shanahan said the problem with adopting the US idea without adapting it for Australia is that the veteran community “is a very broad church”.

“For every veteran (howsoever defined) that thinks it is a good idea, there are others who would find it trite and embarrassing,” he said.

“You could include me in that. I gave more than 25 years to military service, enjoyed my time and left on good terms. The ledger was square. I completely understand this doesn’t apply to everyone, but by the same token I know a lot who would share my view.”

The bigger problem with putting military personnel on “an impossibly tall pedestal” is that failing to thank so many others who serve the community in sometimes dangerous, high-pressure and potentially traumatic situations, such as emergency service workers, as well as aged care and disability workers, and special-needs teachers leaves him feeling “very uneasy” when there’s already a range of support for ex-servicepeople ranging from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs toe advocacy groups such as the RSL, and Legacy.

“So rather than sanctifying military service, the media and politicians should devote more of their energies to recognising those who work on behalf of the greater good in often traumatic, and always difficult circumstances at home,” Shanahan says.

“They do work that I could never have contemplated doing, but are providing more of a service to more people than I ever did.”

Australia Defence Association (ADA) executive director Neil James called the Virgin announcement “tokenism”.

“A commonsense idea would have been providing assistance like restoring the service discount that used to apply on domestic airlines up to the early 1980s,” he said.

Qantas has resisted a push to join the Virgin Australia move with a spokesperson saying it was difficult to single out people — the exception being passengers with special needs — during boarding.

“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,” they said.

“We also have a lot of former Airforce personnel and current defence force reservists working at Qantas.

“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.”

On Monday afternoon, Virgin Australia noted the pushback its proposal, taking to social media to saying it was “very mindful of the response that our announcement about recognising people who have served in defence has had today” and was prepared to drop in-flight announcements if that was the feedback from consultation.

“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,” Virgin Australia said.

“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.”