two men in suits talking in an airplane

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.

a woman in uniform leaning on a carIn 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…

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.

two men in suits talking in an airplaneI 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.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. What a great article! Really enjoyed it and takes a brave person to own up to a mistake in judgement.

    1. Sadly he stills employs racists and bigots, condones bullying of lone female disabled passengers, operates filthy planes, and runs a complaints system that is unfit for purpose !
      Despicable airline which operate despicable policies and practices – and as the company generally reflects its CEO I am left believing that he may be despicable !

  2. What has he done to improve physical comfort for long haul passengers in economy? Slimline seats bruising my rear and knees are admittedly my biggest concern.

  3. IMO when you wrote that you were correct. BA have messed up on most levels over the last two years and are still doing it to this day. We are seeing improvements made gradually but they still need to sort out cleanliness issues, bad CS from crew and scrap having to pay for securing seats in CW.

  4. Think the point about “removing cost-cutting measures” is key to this.

    The public perception has been heavily damaged by the cost-cutting in both Economy & Business. Reversing those measures won’t immediately get you back to where you were previously: that damage cannot be undone overnight.

    And BA have to live with the consequences.

  5. Good on you for owning it, but as someone who has been loyal for 7+ years as a GC holder – flying Singapore was a game-changer. Too little, too late.

  6. Wow! Call me crazy, but this “warm and fuzzy” puff piece sure does seem to have conveniently overlooked a great many of the (too numerous to include here) widely reported “incidents” that encapsulate so well BA’s (profit exploiting/vastly inflating at the expense of its pax and employees) massive product degradations (in all classes) during this period, including these few selected, but spectacular for all the wrong reasons (!), “lowlights” during the Alex Cruz era:

    – the widely reported three day “Journey from Hell” this past November when hundreds of pax were left stranded, and sleeping on the floor of BA’s Terminal 7 at JFK Airport after their already lengthy delayed flight originating in Orlando took off, but then was also diverted en route to JFK, where BA did to its pax there what United infamously did a few years’ ago for a planeload of pax that were aboard a trans-Atlantic flight that had to make an emergency landing in Gander, New Foundland – basically all but failed to provide hotel accommodations and proper meals?

    – the three widely reported incidents of pax (including Club World from London to Cape Town; plus flights to Vancouver and Ghana) being bitten by bedbugs, all within the 2017-present period?

    – the (at least) three widely reported incidents of pax seated in, or immediately next to, urine soaked seat(s), including two incidents within the past six months?

    – or the teensy weensy, prepackaged Blueberry “Cereal Bar” served in PE within the past 90 days on a Tampa-London flight (and catering in general on that flight which London tabloids described as horrid and inedible in both PE and standard economy/World Traveler)?

    And again, that’s just to name a few of the many, many widely reported (in “traditional”/mass media publications AND GSTP’s affiliated publications such as “View From The Wing”) unacceptable service blunders that characterize the massive product degradations at what used to be the “World’s Favourite Airline” when its service in all classes was top notch until the installation of managers who care more about “servicing” their own bank acoounts and profiteers’ interests (e.g., the infamous and spectacularly crass 2016 Investors’ Day PowerPoint slide that greedily proclaimed managers’ predominant mission was to get pax to “Show Us The ‘Effing’ Money” with an airplane emoji-sized image inserted where the “u” in the four-letter word replaced by ‘Effing’ would be) instead of its past devotion to excellence when the airline for a decade or more offered its legendary, vaunted and enviable, award winning, customer service to fare paying guests in all classes the led to it rightfully proclaiming itself as the “World’s Favourite Airline” in marketing campaigns took over after (BA’s parent, International Airlines Group, or IAG’s, current CEO), Willie “Show Us The ‘Effing’ Money!” Walsh took the reins at BA before handing it off to current BA CEO, Alex Cruz, where both leaders’ efforts/actions have made abundantly clear the only interests they seek to serve are themselves and shareholders’ – and ‘NOT so much’ concern for their fare (AND SALARY) paying pax (without whom there’d be no money for their bloated salaries, obscenely generous stock options/compensation packages or those annual (not to mention obscenely generouous) €500 million (wealth transferring) stock buybacks that are funded by the massive disinvestment in service delivery quality that are the product degradations (“lowlighted” above) of all kinds, but especially the employee hated “two-tier” wage and work rule scales that results in aircraft crewed with B-scale “junior” flight attendants being tasked with the same (or more) work as their significantly higher paid A-scale co-workers (who also have real pension plans versus the decidedly less valuable retirement schemes the recent hires will have when they retire).

    Simply put, while BA’s product has become decidely worse (as many, many publications and bloggers have reported consistently over the past several years) including long haul aircraft being switched to what used to be high density Economy configurations found only on specially configured widebodies used by Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways (ANA) for exceptionally short hops between major cities within Japan, or “2nd tier” (not to mention ALL long ago failed) airlines like Tower Air, Capitol Airways, World Airways, etc., with exceptionally small seats densely packed into knee-crushing, hip crunching, no legroom rows as Bloody Awful (2.0 – BA back in the 1970s and its pre-Lady Thatcher directed rehabilitation initiated in the mid-1980s used to be LESS AWFUL than it is now!) of today that features 31” pitch rows across its long-haul fleet where pax are routinely flying 5-15 hours (often overnight) on its vast globe spanning network, and it, too is installing those criminally hideous 17-17.2” wide economy class, hard as cement blocks, slimline seats in its overcrowded…er “Densified”…10-abreast Boeing 777s (that now have the same number seats per row as its 9” wider Boeing 747 cabins and its even wider than the “Queen” Airbus A380s) and the equally horrid 9-abreast Boeing 787 “Nightmareliners” with the same shamefully small (and rock hard) 31” pitch no legroom seats that its CEO would be hard pressed to find any comfort in were he to ever deign to fly among those pax who make his salary possible in his badly degraded, shamefully uncomfortable, World Traveler cabins for all of his flights as the vast majority of his consumers do – one thing that has become vastly improved and enhanced (as in the inverse of the massive product and employee compensation degradations) is his, Wille “Show Us The ‘Effing’ Money!” Walsh, and of course, the already exceptionally wealthy shareholders’ ever fattening bank accounts.

    Nope – for sure NO DEGRADATIONS are seen there!

    Meanwhile, the greed knows no bounds (and has no sense of shame/morality) “Show Us The ‘Effing’ Money!” crowd continues to glom (Yiddish for “take”, “steal”) as much as they can from both pax AND employees at BA.

    That’s the BA most of us (including this reporter who spent at least five years writing and reporting about the airline industry for the trade publication PlaneBusiness Banter as a regularly featured bylined columnist and data analyst, plus more approximately two years on a consulting assigment for BA where I was the Principal Researcher, data analyst and legal assistant (who compiled and analyzed BA’s financial data before preparing a great many reports and documents submitted to management and NY State for sales tax matters) now see – NOT the glossed over one presented here that sounds more like the Lord King and Sir Colin Marshall era of its storied past and conveniently omits a great many widely reported (not to mention repeated and spectacularly bad) service delivery problems over the past two years – many within the past six months – or its very badly degraded 31” pitch overcrowded/“densified” super long haul planes that neither Willie Walsh nor Alex Cruz squeeze their precious bums into as their fare and salary paying customers are expected to.

    Sorry, I really don’t like having to call out other industry reporters/bloggers (whom I very much respect and admire) for “errors and factual omissions” to such a degree.

    But, in this case, there have been way too many (and recent) horrid incidents at BA for me to have looked the other way on this blog post.

    When considering the easily researchable incidents noted above, and how well they were covered in both the industry focused AND mainstream media, one might wonder how such glaring omissions of facts was possible at all.

    And again, sincerest apologies – as I write this I’m very much aware that this criticsim is exceptionally harsh.

    However, credibility matters for readers who turn to this (and other respected blogs/“traditional”) publications (be they trade or mass market), and in this instance, the failure to cite any of the recent, many, and widely reported debacles at BA left me no choice but to express these thoughts.

    Kindest regards,

    Howard Miller

    1. You have covered a lot there, Howard. I think you’ve been quite unfair and rather selective. Perhaps I can offer an alternative view?

      Your points about the JFK “journey from hell” are inaccurate. Here are the facts: the aircraft developed a technical fault in Orlando that unfortunately by the time it was fixed the crew were out of hours, this meant they required 12 rest before starting another duty. A rescue aircraft was not sent from LGW was by the time it got there with or without another crew the original aircraft would have been ready to depart. And so it did. Unfortunately a few hours into the flight the same problem reoccurred and required a diversion, successfully and most importantly, safely into JFK. That weekend was NY marathon weekend so it was literally like a nativity scene: no room at the inn. Passengers were, however, afforded access to the lounges, including non Exec Club members, and were fed and accommodated in the only way available. Proper meals were provided and if no rooms were available, where do you propose on housing them? A rescue aircraft was subsequently flown to JFK where all customers were repatriated to their destination. An unfortunate turn of events but given the circumstances couldn’t have been handled much better.

      Bedbugs: BA has instigated a more regular deep clean schedule of the aircraft cabins – the time period between deep cleans has been approximately halved compared with 2017.

      Urine soaked seats: personally not one I’ve come across – seat covers are regularly replaced and if reported engineers will replace the seat covers – this occurs frequently if a passenger has vomited. You can’t really legislate for people pissing in seats though, BA does provide toilets onboard without charge after all.

      World Traveller Plus catering. There was often a lot of waste as people who had just woken up typically didn’t each much. However, you’ll be pleased to know that BA has just announced World Traveller Plus is getting a major upgrade from February including: new furnishings, an enhanced service and an improved dining experience. Catering upgrades include a 3rd choice main meal and a more substantial, hot, second meal. There will also be new amenity kits, quilts and pillows.

      I must add this is in addition to huge new investments already realised in several lounges (JFK, Singapore, Aberdeen, Rome to name a few, this is ongoing too – more airports than ever before now have lounge access), new soft furnishing to Club World (the new White Company pillows are exceptional!) and there’s a new Club World seat to be rolled out this year. Catering upgrades have already been introduced to World Traveller, Club and First and First is set to receive new amenity kits and bedding this year too. There’ll be the best streaming WiFi in the sky on all short haul aircraft and 90% of longhaul aircraft by the end of the year, facial recognition technology in more airports making boarding faster and easier and much more. This is a massive investment programme but these things take time.

      I appreciate what you say about B-scale salary staff. However, how many companies, let alone airlines, these days are offering staff T&Cs that were offered 20 years ago along with a final salary pension? People moan that BA are too expensive (they’re actually not) but if that’s the case then you can’t keep on providing salaries and working conditions that are way in excess of market rate. Mixed Fleet cabin crew are just about market rate, the pilots are pretty much below market rate. The legacy cabin crew numbers are being drawn down gradually and BA is a much better, leaner operation for it. BA topped the punctuality stats for the mega airline category and is the most punctual London-based airline beating EasyJet, Ryanair and Virgin despite the others having a far greater proportion of their flights at less congested airfields.

      A note on 10 abreast economy on the 777s – BA is actually one of the last airlines to go down this route. I hear few moans about Emirates doing it. It’s actually proven to be quite popular at LGW as typically families of 4 fly to Orlando, Cancun or Punta Cana and now they can all sit in the middle section rather than having to split across aisles. Combined with a new seat, larger IFE content and screen, mood lighting and catering enhancements it has improved the cabin beyond what exists in some of the as yet unrefurbed mid-J 747s. It has made the Club cabin much more intimate too.

      Yes there have been a few high profile incidents where passengers have not received the service they would expect but BA carries over 40 million passengers per year, the vast majority on time, in comfort, satisfied and most of all safely. This is an exciting year for BA, especially combined with the new route additions and new aircraft deliveries. Try it with an open mind, you might be pleasantly surprised.

  7. Book without status and then fly and review your experience in one of the new BoB, 29″ non reclining Eurotraveller seats with the micro toilets on a route over 2 hours (or even better a 4hr flight). Ryan air now offer a 31″ pitch in aircraft fitted with equivalent slimline seats
    BA Cabins are still dirty
    Customer services lines are still open for a ridiculously short period of time (1pm-5pm Mon to Friday and virtually never answered and take over a fortnight to respond (I don’t want to interact with a twitterbot and in my family the elders simply don’t understand twitter
    BoB whilst improved is still FAR too slow and regularly runs out entirely let alone offering a choice
    Water is still chargeable and NOTHING is offered on a complimentary basis upto 5hrs
    Longhaul catering cuts have NOT been fully restored and “smart provisioning” is actually dumb / too tightly managed with passengers going hungry because not enough is loaded
    The discounted sale fares are at last approaching a competitive level given the degraded service but the regular BA price remains significantly out of kilter with comparable service from competitors
    Cost cutting continues so booking more than a month in advance you actually don’t know what hard / soft product you’ll receive (Cutting has been injected into our DNA) but passengers see no benefit on fares
    Airframes with non functional IFE remain in use on many longhaul routes
    WiFi is STILL not available on many flights and is charged at an extortionate rate (see Norwegian) where it is
    Valid claims for refunds / compensation are still routinely denied
    Seat choice is still charged for, again at a rate higher than the competition, even in business

    You predicted the response but whether the Cruzifier is the right man or not the hard and soft products in 2019 are still uncompetitive, stingy, too variable and overpriced. Either up the quality or drop the fares and whichever option, unless customer service improves, I for one will continue to #flyABBA whenever there’s a choice.

  8. PS The much touted “investment” is in reality primarily essential fleet renewal necessary because they are literally flying airframes until they are scrapped… premium service on a plane that’s scrapped the following week?
    AND the new and refurbed fleet offer a more cramped, less comfortable “experience” at the back and are still being rolled out with a simply out of date and uncompetitive seat and layout up front…. These cabins will still be in use in a decade.
    The roll out of genuine “enhancements” is WAY too slow eg. 10yrs after introduction of the “new” WT+ seat, it’s still not available on many airframes…
    Is White company bedding to cover the dirty, poorly maintained seating in CW now reliably available on all routes? NO!
    There is little doubt that the new a350 CW seat will be trumpeted and marketed to death but the reality is it will be available on less that 2% of BA flights in 2020 and as above the already out of date 1990’s ying yang CW seat will still be in use in 2029.
    Profits are healthy, passengers who endure a longhaul with BA, not so much.

  9. As I’ve pointed out before, I do not necessarily agree with the way Cruz is driving the airline, but do understand it (and who cares about I think anyways?)
    -On one hand, economy (at least in short-haul) is price driven, so it is kind of a “race to the bottom” aiming to save here and there to capture those that would otherwise turn to LCCs.
    -BA has the competitive advantage of operating to more destinations than any other airline from LHR and capture high $$$ clients, despite their offerings.
    -Status does make things easier and more attractive for high value clients (who doesn’t enjoy a glass of Champs at the lounge, a better seat or an upgrade?)
    As a Silver I’m dropping my loyalty with BA on short-haul as I don’t see any significant value over any other carrier and do actually enjoy flying EasyJet instead. On Long haul though I really value lounge access in connecting flights, upgrades and preferred seating, so not taking my business away from them.

    1. There’s a cheque with a lot of zeros on it. Just sadly no other numbers either. Find me one inaccurate point.

  10. Please contact me for how wrong this article is!!
    BA break the law every day, and clearly have a don’t care attitude to passengers!!

  11. Avios prices may be static, but the “carrier fees” for US originating flights are outrageous and have seriously devalued the Executive Club for US residents.

    I am Gold for Life, GGL with Concorde Room Card…and I’m fed up…probably won’t bother with renewing GGL.

    $1400 fee for Club World award RT.
    $1800 fee for First award RT.
    $400 for CW->F upgrade RT.

    This is ridiculous.

  12. Doesn’t look like the service has improved that much, even a year after this article and the much vaunted but duplicitous “investment” programme. No I’m not going to list everything yet again, just read some of the recent reviews here:
    Uncle Alex has a VERY long way to go to even reach the standards they had in 2015

  13. August 2019, after several further IT meltdowns, continued use of broken ife, broken inadequately cleaned and provisioned aircraft, and the launch of the base model longhaul a350 fitted with non reclining seats in a “premium” cabin and the total c*ck up of comms around the unnecessary stroke…
    Still think that you were wrong?

  14. Whilst airlines have had to cut costs to survive, the issue with BA is that so much of what it has done looks more mean spirited and penny pinching consumers as opposed to reducing costs to lower fares.

    Because of the UK’s physical position to Europe, a number of BA’s flights in its European network are not ‘short’ haul, hence the Buy on Board policy of charging for sandwiches and water on a 5 hour flight from Larnaca is totally inappropriate for what is nominally a full service carrier. But nor has Buy on Board been accompanied by lower fares. Whilst airlines have rationalised provision on shorter routes, BA’s offering on sectors such Istanbul and Athens is far below what is provided by Turkish Airlines or Aegean, or indeed what Air France/KLM or Lufthansa give on their shorter flights from Heathrow.

    I am surprised that BA’s public affairs team did not see the obvious reputation risks around emerging stories concerning eg lack of cleaning aircraft to save money, charging Business Class passengers to select seats etc alongside the mismanaged communications over strikes and IT faults. Cumulatively these are cementing an impression of BA as no frills but premium fares. This has devalued the dignity of the BA brand.

    Historically BA’s brand was never really one of glamour (unless you go back to the days of Imperial Airways) – BA was no Singapore Airlines – but of solidity, deft competence with a dash of cheerfulness. It is these values that have been lost in recent times. annd explains why this centenary year for BA has been muted not celebratory. But equally, BA can recover quickly by refocusing on customers and re-building loyalty. BA must revamp its communication and IT functions which have proven so faulty and damaging alongside shedding the perception of BA as constantly downgrading passenger experience. The Buy on Board model needs to be nuanced so that BA has a competitive Medium Haul concept on all fights between 3 to 6 hours. Whether Alex Cruz and the IAG board have the vision to move beyond the current trajectory only time will tell..

  15. It’s not easy to run a large company well and transform it but it’s not an impossible task either – which is what people like Cruz and Walsh are paid the big bucks to do. They need to front up and experience first-hand what happens with the customer experience at all levels – end to end. Not just for the high end club card passengers but everyone who flies BA. When is the last time one of them flew as a reg passenger to see what it’s like. A few years ago I was waiting for a flight which was delayed and the info from BA staff was poor/no use. Willy Walsh was on my flight with his team – not one of them took the time to speak to the ground staff or the passengers to see what could be done or even just to apologise. Instead they went to the bar for a drink. A lost opportunity to show leadership and customer empathy. In case you don’t know, Mr Walsh and Mr Cruz, you are in the service business. So get a grip and fix this – it may take a longer lead time to sort out aircraft configurations etc and restructure the business BUT without your customers you will only be just another airline – not the one we in Britain should be proud to fly. If you want some help in understanding what you should be looking for, let me know – happy to chat over a coffee (I’ll even pay) – you just need to show commitment by freeing up a diary slot. I flew Qatar, Qantas and Emirates recently – what a wonderful experience. Even EasyJet when my BA flight was cancelled was great.

    Over to the you Mr CEOs – are you ambitious enough to front up.

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