It takes a big person to apologize. Don’t worry, you won’t find one here. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t wrong though. Roughly two years ago, early days into the tenure of British Airways new CEO Alex Cruz, I wrote an open letter proclaiming that he didn’t get it, and should effectively quit. That letter went viral. As I woke the next morning to press requests and amusing emails, nothing prepared me for the event that made me quite literally spit out my coffee later that day. Alex Cruz left a comment on my blog, and he told me I was wrong. In the end, he was right.
In the reply, Mr. Cruz detailed in a point by point series of blows why I was wrong, and what he was doing about it. I challenged him to do better on each point. Two years later, I must concede, he really has. In fairness, it’s also worth noting that many things Alex Cruz took blame for in the press at large, were simply not accurate. He did not personally take flowers from first class, no matter what you heard.
Example: British Airways being late to the new A350 aircraft order game was the fault of his predecessors, even if no one can ever say it. It’s not as if a CEO can order a new $100 million plane and have one delivered via Amazon Prime the next day, no matter how much many of them would love for that to be possible. More than most, Mr. Cruz has an undying affinity for tech, so don’t put it past him to try…
Blaming Alex Cruz six months into the job for lack of innovation, which requires a two year lead time, was hardly a fair shot. Tech takes time, changing a culture takes time. For the record, they’ll pick up their first A350 this summer. Understanding that when a boss says find ways to “save us money” – it doesn’t always mean take something away is not an overnight process either. Just as all bad things don’t lie at the foot of Mr. Cruz, nor does credit for all good things, but in the last two years under his tenure, British Airways has unquestionably…
- Ranked in the 10 most punctual major airlines in the world.
- Matched long and short haul discount prices. Short haul from £19, long haul £269.
- Opened new routes including Nashville, Kos, Osaka, Ljubljana and Charleston.
- Added “elite status freeze” for parents expecting or with newborns.
- Improved catering on long haul. Removed cost cutting measures.
- Been a pioneer in airport tech from bag drop to biometric boarding.
- Refined airport lounge standards. Added lounges in more airports.
- Kept Avios prices static, while other airlines devalued. Still values around.
- Created Heathrow tight connection service, adding sedan transfers.
- Designed a new to be unveiled business class and first class seat.
- Launched British brand partnerships from uniforms to bubbles and blankets.
- Dodged the man who sued for being seated next to overweight passenger.
Accolades are one thing, but like most of you, my travel decisions are fairly simple and not based on shiny trophies. What are the best options based on price and schedule? That’s how I book. In more searches than ever, British Airways is finally a part of that conversation. Do they win every time? No. No one does. But when it comes to package flight + hotel deals, I don’t think there’s actually any airline on earth performing more competitively. Those two things are the result of countless decisions outside of Mr. Cruz daily direct influence, but they have been stoked under his watch.
I’ve been known to quarrel on occasion in defense of my vision and thoughts. It’s therefore without surprise that I, like many, was admittedly impressed when Mr. Cruz chose not to ignore my frustrated customer criticisms – as most airlines do for well… almost everything and everyone, but rather to challenge them head on. And in a public forum too. Not The Times, but just a blog.
I had drawn a line in the sand and gone directly for him. Rather than allow me to continue fanning the flames embroiling his early days, he laid out a clear cut plan and challenged me and his critics at large to see why he was right. If you read his response from that day in 2017, you’ll see that he has actually executed on every point. In many cases, I’ve now come to recognize these points as the correct vision and approach for a sustainable British Airways. People like cheap deals, better food, better seats, more expedient airport experiences and excellent safety records.
Is there room left to improve? Always. Have there been snafus, like a data breach? Sure. Maybe even a fashion choice one might wish to take back. Few airline customer service centers are as responsive or proactive as they should be and British Airways is still very much amongst them. The airline has also been far too slow in launching on board perks, such as a free drink or snack for high ranking loyalty customers on short haul flights. It’s just not “that” hard.
One can only hope that Mr. Cruz love of tech spurs increased customer service opportunity, and at a faster delivery rate than present. Skeptics also fear that innovation aboard British Airways new planes and cabins won’t be quite enough to power through the vast headwinds of emerging airline market competition. Many challenges remain, as they do for all legacy airlines competing in a brave new world, but I no longer think the wrong man is at the helm.
In 2017 Mr. Cruz told me “great things are happening at BA, Gilbert. I hope you’ll stay along for the ride”. In 2019, I’m still here, ready for more; and the airline receives more of my business than it did in 2017 and more than any other will in 2019. Just like the rest of you, I have choices almost everywhere I fly. And I fly a lot. Right now, they’re winning my business and Mr. Cruz just may have been right, after all. Just don’t expect an apology.