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Aussie airline aborts veterans-first boarding plan before takeoff
[SYDNEY] Virgin Australia on Monday jettisoned plans to allow military veterans to board its flights first, as popular outcry at American-style "tokenism" appeared to kill the idea before it got off the ground.
Politicians, commentators and veterans themselves queued up to denounce Virgin's gesture as embarrassing, or worse.
"I would not dream of walking onto an aircraft ahead of the other passengers as a veteran," said prominent former member of the Australian Defence Force Cate McGregor, lampooning the gesture as "faux-American bollocks."
"Spend more on suicide prevention and health support," said the former East Timor veteran, who is also transgender.
Twenty-five year military veteran Rodger Shanahan, now a research fellow at the respected Lowy Institute think tank, said the ploy would be studied as an example of how not to handle public relations.
He suggested Virgin could instead "salute veterans by providing heavily discounted tickets to those less fortunate in society."
Even far-right politician Pauline Hanson called the move a "marketing ploy," telling Channel Seven, "I find it very embarrassing... I've worked with a lot of the veterans and I think they'd find it terribly embarrassing."
Virgin CEO John Borghetti put the chocks back on the plan.
"We are very mindful of the response that our announcement about recognising people who have served in defence has had today," he said. "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."
The proposal came amid concerns that the military is becoming overly fetishised in Australian public life.
While military service is respected, and major anniversaries of the Battle of the Coral Sea and World War I have heightened awareness of past sacrifice, Australians are broadly low-key in their praise.
"Rather than sanctifying military service, the media and politicians should devote more of their energies to recognising those who work on behalf of the greater good in often traumatic, and always difficult circumstances at home," Shanahan wrote recently.
"What about police and emergency services who have to attend car crashes, or fish bodies out of rivers? Or paramedics who attend countless overdoses, suicide attempts and related traumatic events?"