TALKING POINT | "Thank you for your service”. Anybody who has flown on US domestic airlines will be familiar with this refrain, made in acknowledgement of veterans before a flight and usually accompanied by priority boarding.
Moves to introduce a similar salute on Australian airlines are gathering momentum, with Virgin Australia joining a Federal Government campaign to recognise defence force members and Qantas facing predictable pressure to follow suit.
The government scheme would see members of Australia's armed forces receive a discount card and lapel pin so that participating businesses can offer discounts or benefits to veterans (putting aside that in Australia we traditionally use the term veterans to describe retired members of the armed services).
"We acknowledge the important contribution veterans have made to keeping our country safe and the role they play in our community," said Virgin Australia Group CEO John Borghetti in launching Virgin's initiative over the weekend.
"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."
Defence Industry Minister Steve Ciobo said it "would be terrific" if Qantas matched Virgin's pledge, although Veterans Affairs minister Darren Chester allowed that "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."
A spokesperson for Qantas said the airline had the "utmost respect for current and former defence force personnel” and special announcements were made on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day."
"[But] 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 [with the exception of passengers with special needs]."
However, this afternoon Virgin Australia issued a statement in response to public backlash which indicated the airline was reconsidering its decision.
"We are very mindful of the response that our announcement about recognising people who have served in defence has had today. It was a gesture genuinely done to pay respects to those who have served our country," the airline said.
"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."
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