Virgin Australia has been forced to defend the importance it places on the health and safety of passengers, following a controversial speech by the airline’s CEO.
Speaking at Queensland University of Technology’s Business Leaders’ Forum yesterday, Jayne Hrdlicka said the narrative needed to change around COVID-19 in Australia as the country continues to roll out its vaccine program, according to the uni’s media centre.
“We can’t keep (COVID) out forever,” she said.
“We’re all going to be sicker than we ever have been in the past because we’re not exposed to the viruses and challenges that the rest of the world is dealing with, so we need to get the borders open for our own health and for the economy (once vaccinated).
“It will make us sick, but won’t put us into hospital. Some people may die, but it will be way smaller than the flu.”
Hrdlicka’s controversial comments have sent social media into a frenzy, with the hashtag #boycottvirgin now trending on Twitter.
.@VirginAustralia Outrageous. Until your CEO resigns, you've lost me as a customer for life. Who would board a plane run by a CEO w such open, callous disregard for human life? I will fly @Qantas or @airnzaustralia or any competitor, or I won't travel
Bye for good #boycottvirgin
— Bob Harris (@bobharrisdotcom) May 18, 2021
— FN Antifascist (@fnaust) May 18, 2021
— Lotus (@lotus2955) May 17, 2021
— Ich bin eine Sewer Ratte (@sydhba) May 17, 2021
— Deb (@spinnakergirl) May 18, 2021
Hands-up who's ready to die just so Virgin Airlines can make a profit?
— 💧🔥🐨Bee🐝🐀PM for Sewer Rats (@BelindaJones68) May 17, 2021
My 12 yr old could possibly be one of these people your CEO is happy to sacrifice. What a truly heartless b#$%*. Be honest…this is all for her bonus and nothing more! Cutting up Virgin card…I'm done!#boycottvirgin
— Sharon (@shazzld) May 17, 2021
The social media storm even prompted Michael Rowland, co-host of the ABC’s News Breakfast program, to highlight the PR nightmare unfolding for Virgin.
If you think you’re having a bad day, spare a thought for the @VirginAustralia PR team this morning…
— Michael Rowland (@mjrowland68) May 18, 2021
The airline has since tried to smooth over Hrdlicka’s comments, issuing a statement saying that the safety of its guests has always been Virgin’s “number one priority” and that “nothing will change that”.
“We have worked in lock-step with state and federal governments to put the health and safety of Australians first, and we’ll keep doing that as we learn to live with COVID-19,” the statement read.
However, it appears to have stirred up even more criticism from people – some of them loyal customers – on Twitter.
The safety of our guests has always been our number one priority and if some die well then do be it. As long as we make money is all that matters really.
— Matthew Chisholm (@MattCJChisholm) May 18, 2021
Marketing 101 for you from a cleaner. We the public are expendable, or you want the Vaccine rolled out as quickly as possible. If it is the latter start putting pressure on the Federal government. Action more than words will be the only way to fix the mess you made for yourself.
— mark hodgson (@buckormark) May 18, 2021
Good marketing. Perhaps you could implement a competition where members could win dead people's Velocity points? At this stage, it sounds on brand to me.
— 5pm (@pencilfury) May 18, 2021
You’ve lost my business to and from Melbourne to Canberra been loyal customer for 6 years on this route no more after July with Rex offering $69 fares! Service is woeful now on VA
— Wayne Smith (@winos52) May 18, 2021
So Virgins marketing team can now override the CEO? Newsflash. This is not a round trip, your CEO took a one way ticket & your brand is now damaged.
— Misty Mountain 🍂🍁 (@Suzanne43554675) May 18, 2021
Not flying with your airline at all in the near future.The CEO has accidentally revealed what the company’s business policy is and it is in humane and honestly, bloody disgusting. Virgin used to be my favourite but @JayneHrdlicka… thank you for opening my eyes. #boycottvirgin
— Komal (@Komal75062061) May 18, 2021
Hrdlicka’s comments come after Virgin was forced to defer most short-haul international flights until at least December 2021.
The move was in reaction to the federal government’s expectation that Australia’s international border won’t reopen until mid-2022, according to its newly-released Budget papers.
Featured image source: Queensland University of Technology