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Mark Knight: how coronavirus has left the future of Virgin Airlines up in the air in Australia

Mark Knight, April 23, 2020 5:00PM Herald Sun

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Part of Mark Knight’s cartoon on the future of Virgin Airlines. media_cameraPart of Mark Knight’s cartoon on the future of Virgin Airlines.


Reading level: orange

In his weekly series, award-winning cartoonist Mark Knight explores the collapse of Virgin Airlines in Australia and how the company could make a buck selling its second-hand planes.

Sadly, the coronavirus* claimed another victim in Australia this week — Virgin Airlines Australia.

With the country in lockdown, state borders closed and a ban on international travel as well as a large debt* the airline was carrying, it finally became too much — so the administrators* were called in to find a new owner or break up the airline and sell all the bits like a huge garage sale*.

It all sounded very complicated as to why Virgin failed.

I tried reading the business sections of the newspapers about how it happened, complicated loans and stuff that just made my brain hurt!

It was a major story and I wanted to draw a cartoon about it, but I had to try and simplify the news story into a cartoon that would tell the story in a humorous way that people could understand.

‘Keep it simple stupid’ is my motto!

So, putting all the financial info to one side, I just considered the basics of the story — Virgin Airlines was for sale and needed a buyer. Simple.

media_cameraGrounded Virgin Australia aircraft are seen parked at Brisbane Airport. Picture: AAP

I could also add that the airline was considered a little bit second-hand* at a time when the world economy* has been hit hard by COVID-19. Who has the money to buy an airline right now?

One of the things I like to use in my cartoons is a visual metaphor*. it is the use of another image to describe something else. Earlier in the story, I spoke about selling off the airline in parts like a “garage sale”. That is a metaphor.

One of the great visual metaphors and stereotypes* is the used car salesman. No disrespect to any car dealers out there but there is a certain feeling associated with the second-hand car industry!

Mark Knight’s Virgin Airlines cartoon. Right-click and open in new tab for full-sized image

Mark Knight cartoon on the future of Virgin Airlines media_cameraMark Knight cartoon on the future of Virgin Airlines

An idea flashed before my eyes of a large Virgin Boeing 737 standing in a used car yard. The aircraft sitting among the Commodores and Volkswagens like any other used vehicle with a For Sale sign on the dashboard made me laugh — always a good sign when drawing a cartoon.

The Virgin collapse is the biggest business failure in Australian history and here is the solution, put the plane in Honest John’s car yard and see what we can get for it!

Brilliant, I thought!

So, I started drawing the image I had in my head of a car yard with old VWs, station wagons and HQ Holdens with this towering jet in the middle of them. In a car sales cliche*, a member of the public in the car yard kicks the tyre of the plane, an act associated with someone checking the quality of the vehicle they are considering buying.

When finished, no caption was necessary. The drawing said it all.
Virgin Airlines, Australia’s second airline was up for sale. And maybe just like a used-car salesman trying to sweeten the deal, the administrators might even throw in the celebrity face and founder of the airline — Sir Richard Branson!


  • coronavirus: a virus that causes disease in humans and animals.
  • debt: owing money
  • administrators: people brought in to sell a failed business
  • garage sale: sale of unwanted goods from your garage or driveway
  • second-hand: has been used before
  • economy: the system of how money is made and used within a particular country
  • metaphor: a figure of speech that is used to make a comparison between two things that aren’t alike but do have something in common
  • stereotypes: a fixed and often untrue idea about someone or something
  • cliche: anything that is overused, such as a phrase


Drones delivering COVID-19 test kits

Mark Knight: Home learning enough to make parents scream


  1. Name the reasons why Virgin is not flying at the moment.
  2. What is Mark Knight’s motto?
  3. What are the basic details of this story, according to Mark Knight?
  4. Why has he drawn the plane in a used-car yard?
  5. Who is the founder of Virgin Airlines?


1. What would they say?
Cartoonist Mark Knight has not used a caption on this cartoon, letting the imagery speak for itself.

Read Mark’s explanation of what the cartoon means again and write two, three or four short sentences, just to make sure you understand what the cartoon is saying.

Using your sentences to help you, write a caption for the cartoon or some thought bubbles or quotes from the people in the cartoon that will make Mark’s meaning clearer for children or people who haven’t been reading the news this week.

Time: allow at least 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum links: English, Humanities, Visual Arts, Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
Look through the most recent stories on Kids News and choose one to draw a cartoon about.
Use Mark’s three-step process to get started:

  1. What is my subject?
  2. What do I want to say about this issue?
  3. How do I say it? Do I use visual metaphors (an image that the viewer is meant to understand as a symbol for something else), multiple panels or symbolism (when one idea, feeling or emotion is represented by something else such as a: picture, character, colour or object)?

Time: allow at least 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum links: English, Humanities, Visual Arts, Critical and Creative Thinking

Verb adventures
With a partner see if you can identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

Curriculum Links: English, Big Write and VCOP

HAVE YOUR SAY: Are any of your favourite places closed because of the coronavirus? How does that make you feel?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will show until approved by editors.

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