explainer

Should Aussie war veterans get special treatment on flights?

Virgin Australia’s decision to honour Australian war veterans on its flights by giving them priority boarding has been met with both praise and criticism.

The move is similar to what takes place in the United States. Along with priority boarding, veterans will be publicly acknowledged during in-flight announcements.

“We acknowledge the important contribution veterans have made to keeping our country safe and the role they play in our community,” Virgin Australia chief executive officer John Borghetti told Brisbane’s Sunday Mail.

The airline’s announcement came after the Federal Government revealed a suite of new measures for veterans, including a discount card for returned service men and women, a lapel pin to recognise their “unique contribution” and a program to help them find suitable work.

“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 on board,” Borghetti said.

While Virgin’s plan is clearly meant to show respect and acknowledge the crucial contributions of military veterans, others have criticised the decision.

Who is for Virgin’s decision to give war veterans special treatment on flights?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Industry Minister Steve Ciobo praised Virgin’s proposal, with Ciobo calling on Qantas to follow suit.

He described Virgin as a “trailblazer” and urged other businesses to take the initiative on board.

“If we can get through not just airlines, but if we can do this across the board, I think that is part of reinforcing respect in the Australian community for these men and women,” Mr Ciobo told Sky News.

“It’s tremendous they come on board and that they honour and salute the service of men and women who have served our ­nation in uniform, putting themselves in harm’s way.”

However, Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester acknowledged some veterans would be uneasy about the extra attention, and would prefer discounted airfares.

“As we consult with the ex-service organisations, we’ll get a better idea of what exactly they would like to see in that regard,” he told the ABC.

“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.”

The government will work with Virgin and veterans groups to finalise the proposal.

Opposition Veterans’ Affairs spokeswoman Amanda Rishworth said Labor would support commitments that delivered “tangible benefits” to veterans. Labor would consult with them to determine whether this was the kind of recognition they wanted, she said.

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And who is against it?

Well firstly, a leading veterans’ group said Virgin’s plans “smacks of tokenism”.

Neil James from the Australia Defence Association said practical action would be much more welcome than “tokenistic” public thanks.

“If you really wanted to thank veterans you’d reinstate the service discount abolished in the early 1980s,” he told AAP.

“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.”

Prominent veteran Catherine McGregor said on Twitter she “would not dream of walking on to an aircraft ahead of the other passengers as a veteran.”

“Spend more on suicide prevention and health support,” she wrote before calling the plan “faux American b*llocks.”

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Veteran Rodger Shanahan said he had been “inundated with messages from the veterans community asking what the hell is going on with this” and called it a “friggin’ embarrassment.”

The US-style idea has also been derided by One Nation leader Pauline Hanson, who described it as an “embarrassing” marketing ploy.

She said ex-service men and women had no desire to board planes ahead of other passengers, including the aged and feeble.

National carrier Qantas has opted not 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.”

Independent Senator Derryn Hinch agreed, saying Australia is less “outgoing” than America in saluting its former soldiers.

“A lot of veterans would be a bit uncomfortable drawing attention to themselves,” Senator Hinch said.

What do you think? Should Aussie war veterans get special treatment on flights? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

– With AAP.

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