Qantas says it has no plans to follow Virgin Australia in giving war veterans priority boarding and public acknowledgement during in-flight announcements.
Virgin’s announcement, reminiscent of US airlines, came on the heels of the Government’s announcements last week of a discount card and lapel pins for returned servicemen and women and a half-a-billion-dollar upgrade for the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Minister for Defence Industry Steve Ciobo told Sky News it “would be terrific” if Qantas followed Virgin’s example.
“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 said.
But Qantas said it carried “exceptional people every day”, and singling a group out as part of the boarding process would be difficult.
“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,” a spokesman said.
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.”
Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester said the Government would consult with veterans groups and airlines, and acknowledged comments that veterans would rather have discounted air fares.
“Australians, by nature, tend to keep their light under a bushel, so I think some of the veterans would be happy to get on a plane without anyone knowing that they’re there,” he told the ABC’s Insiders.
The sentiment was one echoed by some veterans, with Catherine McGregor, formerly Australia’s highest ranking transgender military officer, dismissing Virgin’s move as “faux-American bollocks”.
“I would not dream of walking on to an aircraft ahead of the other passengers as a veteran,” she tweeted.
“Can’t imagine too many people I served with doing this either. Spend more on suicide prevention and health support.”
I would not dream of walking on to an aircraft ahead of the other passengers as a veteran. Can’t imagine too many people I served with doing this either. Spend more on suicide prevention and health support. Faux American bollocks 👎👎
— Catherine McGregor (@CateMc3273) November 4, 2018
Research fellow at the Lowy Institute and former Army officer Roger Shanahan earlier said he was worried Australia was in danger of reaching “peak veteran”.
“What about police and emergency services who have to attend car crashes, or fish bodies out of rivers? Or paramedics who attend countless overdoses, suicide attempts and related traumatic events?
“Or staff in emergency departments in hospitals who have to make life-saving decisions every day?” he wrote in an opinion piece for the ABC last week.
“Add in aged care and disability workers, or special-needs teachers who have to plug away anonymously every day, and the idea of a community thanking military or ex-military people for their service leaves me very uneasy.”
Retired Army Major-General and Liberal senator Jim Molan described the reaction to Virgin’s move as “a bit of a storm in a tea cup”.
“Let [Mr Chester] get out there are talk to veterans, see what veterans think, and then we might take advantage, or thank Virgin and say ‘no, not appropriate at this time’,” he said.
“Let the consultation occur.”