Monday 12 October 2020 4:49 pm

Alex Cruz: Five days to forget for the outbound British Airways boss

The travel world awoke to a shock this morning as it was announced that British Airways boss Alex Cruz would leave the firm with immediate effect.

He departs with aviation mired in the deepest crisis in its history, with passenger numbers still at historic lows due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision is the first major call from new IAG boss Luis Gallego – who Cruz hired at when he was in charge of Vueling – since taking over in September.

Over the last six months BA has been heavily criticised for its treatment of staff during the crisis, and was branded a “national disgrace” by MPs for its attempts to restructure its workforce.

Even before the pandemic, however, Cruz’s five-year ride at BA was marked by turbulence at every turn, as he sought to reposition BA to compete with low-cost carriers such as Easyjet and Ryanair.

From IT failures leading to the cancellations of thousands of flights to getting rid of free meals on flights, here’s a run down of five of Cruz’s most memorable moments at the flag carrier.

End of free meals – 11 January 2017

A few months into his tenure, BA stopped serving free food and drinks to economy class passengers, a decision that many saw as the end of an era for the carrier.

For many, the decision meant that there was no longer any difference between flying with BA and flying with traditional low-cost airlines such as Easyjet and Ryanair.

In reality, the process of getting rid of complimentary meals started seven years before Cruz took over the airline, as it sought to trim costs during the recession.

Despite the criticism, aviation consultant John Strickland told City A.M. that the move was a logical one.

“You can’t have low pricing, and products, and profitability. BA if anything grew its volumes of domestic and short-haul travel as a result, which allowed it to compete with Easyjet and Ryanair instead of losing out to them.”

IT outage – 21 May 2017

A few months later, BA was struck by a mass IT systems failure which led to thousands of flights being cancelled on one of the flyer’s busiest days of the year.

Some pointed the finger at Cruz’s decision to get rid of BA’s in-house IT team the year before, which saw the airline cut 700 jobs.

Instead, the company’s digital systems were outsourced to Indian firm Tata Consulting Services.
An estimated 75,000 people were left stranded as a result of the outage.

At the time, Cruz apologised for the glitch but said that it had nothing to do with the cost cutting he had carried out. 

However, analysts said that the decision to update BA’s IT systems should have been taken years before. 

“It could have happened to any airline”, an industry source said. 

ICO hits BA with record data breach fine – 1 July 2019

Last year the UK’s data watchdog the Information Commissioner’s Office hit BA with a record £183.4m fine after it reported a major data leak.

The prior year, the details of around 500,000 passengers, including payment card and booking details, were compromised after visitors to the carrier’s website were relocated to a fraudulent site.

In response, Cruz said he was”surprised and disappointed” in the ICO’s initial finding.

“British Airways responded quickly to a criminal act to steal customers’ data. We have found no evidence of fraud/fraudulent activity on accounts linked to the theft.

“We apologise to our customers for any inconvenience this event caused.”

First ever pilot’s strike – 9-10 September 2019

British Airways Pilots Strike Over Pay
A largely empty Heathrow Terminal 5 on September 9, 2019 as British Airways pilots began a 48 hour ‘walkout’, grounding most of its flights over a dispute about the pay structure of its pilots. (Getty Images)

Last year history – but not the good kind – was made when BA pilots went on the first strike in the carrier’s history over a new pay deal.

93 per cent of pilots voted for industrial action after being offered a 11.9 per cent pay rise over the next three years.

A press release from union Balpa said  the strike was going ahead “as a last resort and with enormous frustration at the way the business is now being run.”

Pilots felt aggrieved that, with the airline back in profit, they would not be remunerated sufficiently for pay cuts made during the post-financial crisis recession.

As a result, BA was forced to cancel nearly 100 per cent of its flights, costing the company €137m.

Two months later both sides came to a deal which saw BA restore some of its pilots’ perks, thus avoiding the threat of more action over Christmas.

‘A national disgrace’ – BA hammered over coronavirus job cuts

The worst, however, was yet to come, as the coronavirus pandemic forced airlines around the world into brutal job cuts as international travel collapsed.

BA said it would make 12,000 roles redundant, but later caused outrage after it was accused of threatening remaining staff with controversial “fire and rehire” tactics as it sought to restructure for the future.

The airline was hammered in the House of Commons over the claims, with Cruz and IAG chief exec Willie Walsh both hauled in by the Transport Select Committee to explain themselves.

In the end, the airline appeared to back down, with Cruz telling MPs that the new contracts option had been taken off the table in negotiations.