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Has British Airways thrown Alex Cruz under the bus?

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An interesting article appeared in the Mail on Sunday yesterday entitled “British Airways’ blueprint to go upmarket again”.

I am not going to go into the article in detail, since there is nothing in it which will be news to regular Head for Points readers.

What DID make me do a double-take was this paragraph:

It marks a huge shift for BA under new boss Sean Doyle, whose predecessor Alex Cruz was accused by investors and passengers of trying to take BA downmarket and compete with budget airlines such as Ryanair. BA said the change in strategy had begun under Cruz but the airline is now able to accelerate its plans.

Alex Cruz British Airways CEO

This is, I think, very disingenuous. The lead-time to get anything done in aviation is measured in years, not months. The requirement to thoroughly safety-test everything means that you can’t move quickly, even if you want to.

It is simply not true that Sean Doyle is the architect of the changes that are now being put in place. Whilst HfP was far from being Alex Cruz’s biggest cheerleader, I personally liked him and in many ways he was simply a puppet for Willie Walsh, then Chief Executive of BA’s parent company IAG.

Let’s take a look at every single British Airways ‘improvement’ listed in the Mail on Sunday article. Remember that Sean Doyle was at Aer Lingus until he took over at BA last Autumn and so had no input, at all, into anything the airline did before that.

“new digital ordering systems for in-flight meals” on short-haul – this was announced by Sean Doyle, I admit. However, the termination of the Marks & Spencer contract was announced on 26th October. Cruz was fired on 12th October but the M&S decision would obviously have been taken by then. I have been told that the move back to ‘free water and a snack’ in Economy had been signed-off by Cruz at the same time.

“Long-haul passengers in premium cabins will be served food from gourmet menus prepared by chefs in new kitchens next to the runways at Heathrow”the Do&Co catering contract was announced in September 2018

“Cabin crew will get new uniforms designed by Savile Row tailor Ozwald Boateng”the Ozwald Boateng uniforms were announced in September 2018, to be rolled out for the #BA100 celebrations in 2020 (ahem)

“new flat-bed seats, with a door to the aisle, are being installed in business class”Club Suite was launched in March 2019

“From this week, First Class passengers flying from Heathrow will be able to recharge before their flights in ‘Sleep Pods'” – this is likely to be a Sean Doyle innovation, but it is a replacement for the Elemis Spa treatments in the lounges which have been scrapped as a cost saving measure

“It has also set up partnership with a company called AirPortr that allows customers to pay £150 to have their bags collected from their home and checked in.” – indeed it has, but the AirPortr partnership with BA was launched at Terminal 5 in December 2015. This contract even predates Alex Cruz, who only became British Airways CEO in April 2016.

It is true that there is some good stuff going on at British Airways at the moment. What isn’t true is the narrative that this is due to Sean Doyle riding in from Aer Lingus to change everything that the nasty old Mr Cruz put in place.

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Comments (69)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Nick says:

    What Alex wanted was the same as Michael O’Leary used to say about longhaul… to become effectively two airlines in one. In other words, have a premium product (and price) up front and a very non-premium product (and price) down the back. He didn’t make it work, and totally failed to take colleagues with him so it was doomed to failure, but he did at least make his vision clear. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves for investing heavily in the premium end… and investors totally did back him while he was in position. So yes, he has been thrown under a bus.

    • WaynedP says:

      The extent to which Alex Cruz was merely throwing his support behind an emerging development in air travel would explain the documented popularity of premium economy.

      If the price extremes of airline seats are diverging to the point where leisure travellers aren’t attracted by either, then there’s fertile ground for a middle-of-the-road offering.

      • The Savage Squirrel says:

        “If the price extremes of airline seats are diverging to the point where leisure travellers aren’t attracted by either, then there’s fertile ground for a middle-of-the-road offering.”

        Perfectly put. I’d be interested to see if this is perception or reality – have average Biz seat costs as a multiple of average economy costs stayed the same, increased or decreased over time. Basically has a typical biz seat always been around x5 economy price ( very rough approximation – obviously varies massively by both airline and route), or did it use to be a different ratio; or but have no idea where you’d research that.

  • Mike says:

    A lot of the cuts were associated with Cruz, mainly because he enthusiastically announced them. It therefore makes sense to associate the reversal of those cuts with Cruz leaving. I see nothing unusual or surprising here.

    What you have here is a marketing exercise of collating everything they can to differentiate them from budget airline (a task that was harder a year or two ago). Tied with a new broom and the loss of a bit of a hate figure.

  • ankomonkey says:

    Does Doyle’s track-record show that he managed Aer Lingus as an upmarket brand? I think he ran it as slightly more than an LCC, but I’m not too knowledgeable on this matter, so happy to be corrected.

    I think Cruz probably made some bad decisions at times and he didn’t do much positive to the customer experience, but I think he’s probably taken a lot more flack than he deserves. The profits during his tenure were good from what I remember.

    • Rhys says:

      Aer Lingus is positioned as the LCC brand vs BA and Iberia, though. And Sean Doyle wasn’t there very long – about 19 months.

  • r* says:

    ‘BA no longer forcing ppl to take them to MCOL to get their legal rights’ strangely seems to be missing from their list of proposed improvements lol.

  • Leo says:

    This is the Mail and Alex Cruz is Spanish. I don’t need any more explanation…
    (Even though your article and your explanation was excellent!)

    • Bagoly says:

      I think you are right.
      Have they done anything similar on Lloyds after Horta-Osorio left?

  • Bagoly says:

    Fear not: Airportr has not increased its prices to £150!
    Some addresses are £24, although there does seem to be much more variation than pre-Covid – E.g. Oxford is from £69, although that does include up to 4 bags.
    I doubt they have any spare cash for advertising, but perhaps you could get them to offer a prize of a free collection for an article explaining changes to their offering leading up to 21st June.

  • Susan says:

    Geordie Greig angling for his BA Prem card.

    • RussellH says:

      The article is in the MoS, not the DM. Geordie Grieg moved from the MoS to the DM some time ago.
      The byline on the article is “Harriet Dennys” – not a name I have seen before.
      I suspect that a BA press release may well have turned up on the desk of a new, very junior staffer who was told to turn it into something “useable”.
      Most newspapers do not have a proper transport correspondent (ie someone who actually understands what they are writing about) these days.
      Which is why the Sunday Times gets Rhys to write something that actually requires real knowledge of what they are writing about.

  • Adrian says:

    It’s hard to believe how far BA has fallen for a bottle of water and a packet of crisps to be an “upgrade” (which indeed it is). Also there only 20 odd planes with CSuites fitted, what will it take 3-5 years for the rest?

    • Rhys says:

      2024 was the original plan, but that may well come sooner as the 747s have been retired early.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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