Willie Walsh is set to step down from the board of IAG on 26 March 2020. This will be followed by his retirement on 30 June 2020. He has been the CEO of IAG since 2011. Previously, he was top man at British Airways and Aer Lingus.
At the age of 17, he joined Irish airline Aer Lingus as a cadet pilot before going on to become captain on the Boeing 737.
After this, he went on to become chief executive at Spanish airline Futura before returning to Aer Lingus as CEO in 2001.
During his time at Aer Lingus, he made a huge number of cuts. This included eliminating their short haul business class, their cargo operations and making drastic changes to their frequent flyer program. Walsh even went as far as to sell off an art collection that was featured at the companies headquarters. There were also more than 2000 redundancies made by the airline. Another initiative introduce by Walsh at Aer Lingus was for the cabin crew to clean the planes as opposed to outsourcing it. This wasn’t so successful however. By the end of the cut backs, Aer Lingus had essentially transformed from a full service airline into a low cost carrier… sound familiar?!
Walsh resigned from Aer Lingus in 2005 and briefly took a position at Virgin Atlantic. His tenure there didn’t last too long however. After a disagreement with senior management, he left. By May 2005 he was at British Airways with the intention to become CEO once Rod Eddington had departed in October 2005.
What Next At IAG?
Replacing Walsh will be Luis Gallego, who has been the head of Iberia since 2017.
From a personal point of view, I can see this only being a positive. Whilst Alex Cruz has taken most of the criticism for the cost cutting at British Airways over the years, what is often overlooked is that the cuts were underway long before he turned up. And who was in charge at that point? Willie Walsh.
It is my opinion that whoever was given the top job at BA would have simply been a mouthpiece for Willie Walsh. Therefore the end results would have been the same.
From a passengers perspective, Iberia have made a reasonably good turn around in the past few years. When I first flew with them in 2012, they were quite simply awful. The staff were rude. The A340 had a cabin straight out of 1994, despite being less than two years old.
In recent years, since Luis Gallego has taken over, Iberia have refreshed their two lounges in Madrid. They have taken delivery of new Airbus A350 aircraft. And a lot of the staff actually seem like they want to be there.
It will be very interesting to see what becomes of IAG in the next 18 months to 2 years.
Whilst I very much doubt the buy on board will be going anywhere soon at British Airways, there could well be some flexibility with the concept. I’ve spoken many times about how Finnair offer OneWorld Emerald status holders free drinks. So maybe BA could at least offer their top tier customers a cup of tea on the house?
Of course, the complete opposite could happen and the new guy could insist on even more stringent cuts. Although I very much doubt it. In the worst case scenario, I suspect things will remain more or less the same.
I know that I have spoken mostly about British Airways here. Thats purely because that’s the airline I have the most experience with.
Aer Lingus is an airline I have only flown with a handful of times, and they have remained more or less the same before and after they were bought by IAG in my experience.
Vueling and Level are airlines I am yet to fly. Both being low cost carriers from the outset, is there really that much they can bring to the table in the way of positive changes?
Finally, Air Europa are set to join the IAG party at some point in the near future. Which will no doubt be somewhere towards the top of the new CEO’s to-do list on his first day. I can see them becoming Iberia on the inside with Air Europa colours on the outside.
One thing is for sure: Willie Walsh will certainly have a very good retirement fund come June.
Header image © Stuart Bailey