What’s the deal with the Alex Cruz rumours?

At the beginning of the week, rumours started circulating on the BALPA forums that British Airways CEO, Alex Cruz would be leaving the company imminently. A thread on popular travel site FlyerTalk soon followed. By midday, it was almost a case of when rather than if he left the company.

Further sites picked up on these rumours and started posting articles about Cruz’ imminent demise. I must confess that the bulk of this very article was written in anticipation of the news being confirmed.

However, as the week went on, no further speculation came about and it appeared that the rumours circulating were just that.

Why the rumours?

Since Alex Cruz was installed at British Airways in April 2016, he has widely been criticised for dragging the airline down to low cost airline standards.

The biggest change was to ditch the free on board catering on short haul flights in economy and instead bringing in a buy on board concept. From a personal point of view, whilst not cheap, the products I have bought have at least been of good quality.

British Airways Euro Traveller catering, August 2019

Although it would still be nice to get a free cup of tea. Which is something that has happened on the odd occasion but is very much the exception rather than the norm.

There have also been many other changes behind the scenes resulting in cutting costs and increasing profits.

It appeared that the upcoming pilots strike, the first at the airline in four decades, would be the final straw.

The first IT failure

Along with the changes introduced during Cruz’ tenure, there have also been many high profile blunders. The first of which was a huge IT failure over the May bank holiday weekend in 2017.

Alex Cruz was widely ridiculed online following this for appearing in an office wearing a hi-viz vest whilst making a video statement to the press.

Alex Cruz in THAT HiViz

The first strike

A couple of months later, the airlines mixed fleet cabin crew waked out during the summer over pay and working conditions. This saw a fleet of 10 Qatar Airways A320’s based at Heathrow over the summer season, which in itself drew criticism from the regulators. The airline should have utilised a European operator according to the regulations.

The data breach

The next blunder came in September 2018. Yet again it was down to the IT system, but this time around their systems were breached causing customers data (mine included) to be compromised. This led to the airline receiving a record £183million fine in 2019.

The compensation I received from this? A lacklustre “we’re sorry” email and a years subscription to protectmyid – so I could see if anyone was using my details fraudulently. Thanks.

Another IT failure

A further minor IT failure occurred at the airline in early August 2019 resulting in most short haul flights being cancelled.

Another strike… and another IT blunder

The most recent high profile error under Alex Cruz’ tenure came in August 2019. Cruz failed to prevent a pilots strike. Although this wasn’t the end of the story.

Once more, IT Issues made the situation far worse. Seemingly everyone who was booked on flights during the strike dates was emailed notifying them that their flight had been cancelled. However, this was not the case. People later discovered that the flights that they had been booked on hadn’t in fact been cancelled and that to rebook, they had to pay a much higher price than originally laid out.

To further rub salt into the wounds of frustrated passengers, when phoning up to rebook, they were told to go online. Then the website crashed. Ouch.

Low staff morale

Over the past few years I have got to know a few staff at British Airways. Despite being in various positions from cabin crew to middle management, the comments have been along the same lines. The lack of support from the management is leading to very low morale within the airline. Despite not knowing any pilots on a one to one basis as such, the fact they’re due to strike says they’re not too content either.

On a professional level, the staff I have encountered have been mostly fine. Although there have been a few that have struck me as only being in it for the pay check.

On a personal level, it’s a different story

Most of the cabin crew on contracts from pre-2010 have a pretty good deal. Where as the Gatwick based cabin crew and mixed fleet cabin crew at Heathrow are getting the rough end of the deal. Especially those at Gatwick.

Earlier in 2019, I received the following message:

BA have totally and utterly shafted us. We’ve been told BA are no longer going to stick to our industrial agreement, and that we are also indebted to the company by £1million in lost revenue for the crew rest seats they’ve reluctantly put on our densified 777s (they wanted us to do 3x rotational breaks which means less break times for us and break times as little as 30-45 minutes on night flights from JFK/BDA etc). We’ve just been balloted about taking industrial action, it’s been an intense evening.

A great way to make the staff feel valued. As there was no industrial action at Gatwick, I wrongly assumed the issues had been resolved. However when contacting the staff member for permission to include their quote, they followed up with:

We’re in a better place then we were before in finding a resolution, but other stuff has transpired including our management not turning up to the final stage resolution talks for the Gatwick dispute and instead judging a bake sale …

So once the pilot strikes are out of the way, there could be further walk outs by the cabin crew at Gatwick.

It’s not all been bad however

Despite all this, It hasn’t all been bad under Alex Cruz’ watch. He introduced improved catering in all classes with the exception of Euro Traveller. The introduction of the new Club World suite on the A350 was under his leadership too. Then there’s the other enhancements to Club World also – including The White Company bedding.

Cruz has also left the British Airways Executive Club well alone during his stint. After the 2015 devaluation, a further range of cuts to this could well have been the final straw for many passengers.

So what is happening?

There’s no smoke without fire. It was fairly clear that there was a high level meeting at British Airways after the weekend in the wake of the pilot strikes that were announced. Possibly someone putting two and two together and coming up with five? Perhaps Alex Cruz was given a severe reprimand but in light of the profits British Airways has made under his tenure, was given one final chance? The only people that will know the exact details will be Cruz himself and the IAG board.

My Thoughts

Is Alex Cruz really that bad? It’s not like he was totally new to the airline industry when he started at British Airways. He had previously worked at Vueling, and Click Air. However it should be noted that they are both low cost carriers. Having no doubt been given his brief from higher up at IAG, his hands have been somewhat tied.

Sure, he’s had his fair share of issues as mentioned above. And during all of these has been widely criticised for not being in the public eye at least attempting to sort the issues out. But maybe that’s just a cultural thing?

What would a new CEO be able to bring to the table? Fresh ideas. A different strategy. But more importantly a new outlook. It’s been no secret that since Alex Cruz took over at British Airways the airline has had a ton of bad publicity.

How much of that is down to Alex Cruz himself though? I suspect a lot of it has come from a higher level and he is just the messenger. What’s to say the next CEO will have any better results?

Who might replace Alex Cruz if he does get the chop? One of British Airways OneWorld alliance partners based in the Far East recently had their CEO step down. There has also been a few other names from within British Airways mentioned too during the many online conversations.

Of course, at this point – and for the previous few days this has all been internet speculation.

We shall see.

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