Virgin Australia is investigating a customer complaint after a flight attendant wore a pin of the Palestinian flag on a domestic flight on Sunday.
A 64-year-old Melbourne woman of Jewish heritage was travelling from Coolangatta to Melbourne on a Sunday 12.55pm flight with her daughter-in-law and grandchildren when the incident occurred.
The passenger, who asked to not be identified over privacy concerns, said seeing the flight attendant wear the unauthorised pin, which was placed next to his name tag, made her feel the need to hide her bracelet, which featured the Star of David.
“I felt the need to hide that lest I get treated differently or drawn into some kind of conversation with the male crew member,” she said
“On a holiday flight with my daughter-in-law and grandsons, this was not what I was expecting.”
Upon landing, the woman lodged a formal complaint with the airline.
“(I did it because) I felt intimidated,” she said.
“Having Jewish ancestry myself, and during this current time of high political conflict, I requested they consider advising staff that the wearing of political symbols on flights is not permitted.”
A Virgin Australia spokesperson confirmed the company was aware of the complaint and an investigation was under way.
They confirmed staff members were only able to wear a flag pin if it was issued by the airline to represent to passengers that they could speak a language other than English.
However, the spokesperson declined to respond to direct questions about whether a Palestinian flag was among the pins provided.
Anti-Defamation Commission chair Dvir Abramovich called on Virgin Australia to condemn the “provocative” act.
“I call on Virgin to stamp out any attempt to weaponise their company to score political points and make it unmistakably clear that if this unacceptable behaviour recurs, serious disciplinary action will be taken,” he said.
Dr Abramovich said it had the potential to trigger passengers who may have had friends or family killed in Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel.
Figures from the Israel government state at least 1139 civilians were killed in the attack, with about 240 hostages also taken captive.
“Imagine the anguish a traveller who has family in Israel, or perhaps who lost a relative during the October 7 massacres, would have experienced seeing that staff member wearing a flag that has been used in anti-Semitic demonstrations across the country that have called for the destruction of Israel and accusing it of Nazi-like behaviour, genocide and apartheid,” he said.
“Virgin has to assure customers, who cannot get up and leave in mid-air, that its planes are safe shelters, free of conflict, propaganda and poisonous division.”
It’s understood that once the investigation is complete, a response will be provided to the customer who lodged the complaint.
In December, a similar incident unfolded on a Qantas plane where a flight attendant wore an “unauthorised” Palestinian flag pin on a flight from Melbourne to Hobart.
In the wake of the incident, the national carrier said there were “no room for these to be expressed by our employees in the workplace”.
“Unauthorised badges can’t be worn by employees and we’ve reinforced this to the crew member involved, along with the seriousness of this particular matter. We have also reminded all employees of this policy,” a company statement said.