Last week, the chief executive of British Airways gave a speech at the Royal Aeronautical Society in Central London. Alex Cruz had attended the event mainly to mark the airline’s centenary celebrations but he did also share a few nuggets of information with the assembled guests. One of the more controversial off-the-cuff remarks happened to be the suggestion that “the main threat to BA’s future is the staff themselves”.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a transcript of what exactly was said but the alleged comments were quickly picked up by a number of bloggers. The general feeling was that Cruz is right – after years of losses and cutbacks, British Airways is not only finally profitable but its also making huge investments (£6.5 billion at the last count) to improve the passenger experience.
British Airways has been basking in loads of positive headlines from events to mark its centenary and the remainder of the year should be one of celebration. But there’s one big problem – staff morale has taken a battering and a dispute over pay and working conditions is pitting nearly every front line workgroup including pilots, cabin crew and engineers against management.
There’s even talk of strike action, although nothing has yet been confirmed by the three main trade unions who represent the majority of BA’s 45,000 employees.
Understandably, the comments did not apparently go down very well with some of BA’s employees. The unions have been arguing that British Airways has turned itself around and become hugely profitable because of the hard work of its staff – the claim that employees could prove to be the airline’s undoing is clearly the last thing that anyone wants to hear.
Soon after last weeks speech, Cruz is understood to have been forced to tackle the allegations head on – taking to an internal social media site to dispel rumours and set the record straight.
The comments had, apparently, been taken completely out of context. In a more nuanced version of his original comments, Cruz said that “there truly is only one thing that will stop us from becoming the best airline in the world: us”. He allegedly goes on to say that everyone must work together, embrace change and support one another.
It’s a small but significant difference – rather than saying a dispute over pay and conditions could plunge British Airways back into the red, Cruz is instead saying the airline’s employees are its best asset and the driver towards making British Airways even better.
The delivery might be a little clumsy but perhaps Cruz is saying that he needs to do more to get staff “onboard” with his vision of the future of British Airways? If that is the case, these comments (however well-intentioned) won’t have helped and nor will the ongoing pay dispute.
In a recent survey, only 36% of employees said the airline was making the right choice for customer, while only 21% of employees said they feel recognised for the contribution they make. Clearly, there’s a lot to do to get staffers to “buy in” to Cruz’s strategy – a problem that is no doubt familar with many chief executives in all industries around the world.