Qantas is facing calls to match Virgin’s decision to give priority boarding to war veterans and salute them before take-off.
The US-style proposal comes at the end of a week-long campaign by the Coalition, which will see veterans given discount cards and lapel pins, on top of a half-a-billion dollar extension of the War Memorial.
Defence Industry Minister Steve Ciobo said it “would be terrific” if Qantas matched Virgin’s pledge, which is part of a News Corp campaign.
“I want to congratulate Virgin for, in many respects, being a trailblazer,” he said on Sky News.
“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.”
Veterans would be saluted at take-off and given first access to Virgin aircraft under the plan supported by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and launched by Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti on Sunday.
“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,” said Mr Borghetti.
In the US, the phrase “we thank you and salute you for your service” is regularly played at airports.
Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester said he would consult with veterans groups and airlines, but acknowledged that some may be more appreciative of discounted air tickets.
“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 told the ABC.
Veteran Rodger Shanahan, who now works for the Lowy Institute, said some veterans may grow weary of public salutation.
“I think we are in danger of reaching peak veteran,” he wrote last week after War Memorial director Brendan Nelson kick-started the latest push for more frequent salutes to service men and women.
“For every veteran (howsoever defined) that thinks it is a good idea, there are others who would find it trite and embarrassing,” he said.
Mr Shanahan said recognising veterans risked alienating other essential service providers such as paramedics and police officers.
“I have a Department of Veteran’s Affairs to look after me and, if necessary, my family because of my service, a national public holiday that commemorates mine and others’ service, along with Armistice Day where we can wear a poppy to commemorate the war dead,” he said.
“All of these are worthwhile groups and activities. But they point to the fact that regardless of what people may think or the media might portray, the military and ex-military communities are pretty well catered for on the whole.”
Retired army officer Ray Martin said the US-style salute was floated a year ago by the government and got no public support from veterans.
“Veterans don’t need lapels or gestures,” he said. “Our most vulnerable mates need practical support.”
NSW RSL President James Brown last week urged the government to match its $500 million War Memorial boost with funding for mental health and disability services for veterans.
The move by Virgin has been met with bemusement on social media by some, including Catherine McGregor, who was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for “exceptional service to the Australian Army” and is a Fairfax Media columnist.
She wrote on Twitter that she “would not dream of walking on to an aircraft ahead of the other passengers as a veteran,” and called for more funding of suicide prevention and health care.
A Qantas spokesman said the airline had the utmost respect for current and former defence force personnel.
“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,” the spokesman said.