The chief executive of British Airways announced his sudden departure from the embattled airline on Monday as the carrier continues to navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic. Alex Cruz, 54, the longtime protege of former boss Willie Walsh, announced his resignation just a month after his mentor retired from his role as the chief executive of the parent company of British Airways, which also owns Iberia and Aer Lingus.
Cruz is credited with attempting to transform British Airways with an ambitious plan to cut costs while investing in certain areas to woo back premium passengers. His tenure, however, was rocky at best and he presided over several huge IT meltdowns, industrial turmoil and the fallout from the Corona crisis.
In an internal memo, Cruz told staffers early on Monday morning that he had begun considering his “professional career” earlier this year. Cruz suggested that he had delayed his resignation because of the COVD-19 pandemic and only after concluding a massive internal shakeup that saw around 12,000 employees made redundant.
Cruz said he would now “pass the baton” onto Sean Doyle, the current chief executive of Aer Lingus, described as the best-suited man to “drive BA through the recovery cycle and beyond”. The Spaniard, who made his name at American Airlines before going onto found low-cost Spanish operator Vueling, said he would stay on as Chairman at British Airways.
He had led the helm at British Airways since November 2015 when he immediately led a cost-cutting drive and infamously said that cost-cutting was now embedded in the DNA of the airline. Perhaps the most memorable cost-cutting effort was Cruz’s decision to axe free food and drink for economy passengers on short-haul routes and instead replace it with buy-on-board sandwiches from upmarket retailer Marks and Spencer.
Borrowing more ideas from his low-cost airline days, Cruz led efforts to squeeze more seats on some planes and increase ancillary revenues with a whole host of new charges and paid-for extras. At the same time, Cruz also spearheaded the replacement of BA’s long-outdated long-haul Business Class seat with a direct aisle access ‘suite’ with privacy door.
Most controversially, however, Cruz’s tenure got off to a tumultuous start when a huge IT meltdown in June 2017 grounded hundreds of flights and stranded tens of thousands of passengers. The cause of the IT failure was later blamed on a rogue workman but critics blamed Cruz’s cost-cutting strategy for the highly embarrassing incident.
A later data breach of personal passenger information was further confirmation that Cruz’s strategy of outsourcing IT work might not have been the right choice and led to regulators slapping the airline with a record £183 million fine.
Last year, rumours started to circulate that Cruz was preparing to step down after industrial turmoil prompted by BA’s refusal to give in to wage demands from pilots and cabin crew. Eventually, a deal was done but only after Cruz was seemingly and publicly rebuked by his mentor Willie Walsh.
Ultimately, Cruz survived that crisis but the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic has been too much. His successor joined BA originally in 1998 as a finance analyst and spent 20 years at the airline before leaving to become chief executive at Aer Lingus in 2008.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.