Aviation

Virgin responds to backlash over “tokenistic” veteran salute

Virgin Australia is reviewing its decision to offer priority boarding and an in-flight salute to veterans after facing backlash from ex-service groups.

Despite receiving praise from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Industry Minister Steven Ciobo, Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester suggested some veterans may not welcome the news.

“Australians by nature tend to keep their light under a bushel. Some of our veterans would be quite happy to get on the plane without anyone knowing they are there,” he said.

Virgin’s new commitment comes off the back of the government’s decision to give veterans discount cards and lapel pins along with a half-a-billion dollar extension of the War Memorial.

Under the new campaign, veterans will be given first access to Virgin aircraft and saluted at take-off.

Retired army officer Ray Martin told Fairfax veterans need practical support, not lapels and gestures.

NSW RSL President James Brown echoed Martin’s sentiment, urging the government to match its $500 million War Memorial boost with funding for mental health and disability services.

Virgin has since issued a statement over Twitter to announce they would be seeking further consultation on the plan.

“We are very mindful of the response that our announcement about recognising people who have served in defence has had today,” the company said via Twitter.

“It was a gesture genuinely done to pay respects to those who have served our country.

“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.

“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.”

Australia Defence Association boss Neil James told AFR practical action would be much more welcome by veterans than “tokenistic” public recognition.

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

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