Stop Calling For Alex Cruz To Quit BA, Other Heads Need Rolling…

Of all the slow evolving, process driven industries in the world, the airline business is one more stuck in the dinosaur age than most. Decades have passed where creativity is frowned upon, innovation has been stymied and the best approach has been to keep your head down, doing the job until you rise to the highest level of your own incompetence.

In countries where it’s hard to fire people, it’s an effective strategy, at least as far as cashing your pay check goes. For British Airways, it could be argued that this area is one of the greatest forces holding the airline back, and despite being the easiest lightning rod during the latest round of emotionally powerful incidents – Alex Cruz isn’t one of them.

british airways 787Correcting A Culture Takes Time

For me, it all started with a completely frivolous, borderline meaningless situation many years ago, that despite being meaningless in the grand scheme, somehow said so much about processes gone wrong. I was flying first class with my wife from Heathrow to JFK, it was her birthday and she was leaving her home. I wanted to surprise her with a birthday cake, and so I emailed the “BA YouFirst” team, which every first class passenger has access to, and I asked if I could buy a cake, or anything, to make the flight special. Note: I was happy to buy, I wasn’t asking for free cake.

“No, we can’t cater anything that’s not for everyone”.

I replied that I’d happily buy cake for the whole plane, and that too was declined.

It was the notion that a passenger in the cabin the airline goes to great lengths to pander to couldn’t even get happy birthday written on a brownie, let alone a little cake, with no actual cost to the airline, that I realized there were huge failures in the airlines approach to “customer”. Then Alex Cruz came in, and at first, I thought he was making things even worse. But he hasn’t.

Things Just Aren’t Worse, No Matter What You Wish

Alex Cruz hasn’t made things worse. British Airways is genuinely better today than it was two years ago by any actual quantifiable measure of: finance, route map, fleet, on time performance and all that sort of stuff. It’s climbed the Skytrax rankings each year, not that they should be trusted, while also jumping in net promoter score and other key metrics.

Yes, British Airways is really better today than it was two years ago by almost any actual metric. Stop trying to believe it’s worse. It’s just not statistically true, even if they f**ked up your holiday.

Does that mean you don’t have right or reason to be furious with the airline? No, of course you do.

But to paint an actual picture, a statistical, logical picture – you must remove your emotion and look at facts and figures for a brief moment. I get it though – travel is emotional and when you don’t make it to a major milestone event, or miss a holiday – it’s entirely emotional.

Since Alex Cruz came on board…

  • On time performance is up. Passengers care more about this than almost any other factor, and British Airways is regularly top 10 in the world of major carriers in this metric.
  • Terminals are better. Biometric boarding, family check in zones and first wing have made T5 far more competitive than it was and new lounges are springing up.
  • Wifi, better seats in premium cabins, power ports in economy and new planes are finally arriving. This takes years, not months to deliver, and the impacts of Cruz’s early moves are only just now being felt.
  • Fares are down, yields are up. It’s not uncommon to pay same price or similar price to Ryanair, EasyJet etc on short haul flights. British Airways virtually matches Norwegian on long haul price, while offering a loyalty program and free food.

Were you really willing to pay a £75 premium for a gin & tonic? Statistically, whatever you may say – no, you weren’t – which is why BA was in the red before, with failing short haul routes. Now, they’re breadwinners.

Great Strides Plagued By Colossal Failures…

But, yes – this is all pissed down the drain by colossal IT failures, and most recently, the pilots strike which stuck a dagger in the heart of the #BA100 PR campaign, which had most successfully spent the year building goodwill via retro liveries, acts of kindness, new fleet deliveries, lounges and more.

Everyone impacted by these issues has a right to be disgusted, mortified and furious at the airline and in regards to strikes, its pilots too. It is British Airways reputation for smooth sailing punctuality that make it one of the most valuable brands and these lingering issues are the hurricane force winds that won’t let the ship set new course. I believe many of these winds are caused by dinosaurs, without a clue where things are going.

What people hate about these issues isn’t that they happen – they happen to every airline – it’s the lack of transparency or fortitude in which they are handled. Middle managers passing on weak advice to front line employees who then try and nickel and dime customers during times of hardship is just flat out wrong. I too was enraged when I saw the airline was not fully honouring the clearly defined legal obligations set forth for such cancellations, and every time I see “100,000 people stuck as BA computer systems fail” headlines, I want to punch a wall.

You’ve Got The Wrong Guy Though

But pinning this on Alex Cruz is literally the dumbest and most short sighted thing you can do in regards to this airline. Sure, there’s always “the buck stops here” CEO approach, but with 45,000 employees, you can’t even remotely pretend to square this all on one person.

If anyone could ever try to be held accountable for all 45,000 employees though, I believe it would actually be Alex Cruz. I’ve personally seen the man walk the halls of terminals talking to customers without any entourage, and even help manage a boarding gate from time to time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an airline leader with less entitlement and more transparency.

To the dismay and delight of colleagues, Mr. Cruz’s legacy at British Airways thus far is exactly that. An accountable, direct, hands on approach to key elements of the business et al. The “why this” questions, the dropping into random meetings and the push for better solutions is his method of operation. He’s blunt, he’s decisive and obviously not everyone is going to like that, particularly if they don’t have any solutions.

In any draconian business, some people mistake a leadership directive for “better” or “efficiency” with less and less, and that’s exactly what I believe to be the reason BA hasn’t completely turned over a new leaf.

As someone hoping to raise a family one day, and who understands the basic necessity of paying rent in an ever changing world – I don’t want to pick on anyone in particular – but why aren’t people calling for the heads of the IT department, customer service, loyalty engagement, legal compliance or any of those departments to be put on notice? How long does it take to get a freaking cup of coffee for top tier customers on short haul flights?

Wouldn’t those directly correlated roads seem like a far more logical tangent for public pitchforks than calling for someone who absolutely doesn’t make the day to day decisions in those areas to be gone?

A Brave New Frontier For Airlines

Perhaps this is all why airlines such as Lufthansa have spoken of entirely shifting the organization of their business, cutting entire departments in favour of new airline teams that don’t yet exist, which better serve the future of aviation.

I’m pissed off at whichever customer service manager or VP gave front line staff a directive not to book people onto non partner airlines, when they were legally obliged to during pilot strikes. Why not just come out transparent and apologetic? If that came from the top, I’m even more upset. I shouldn’t be needing to tell customers what BA’s legal obligations are to them, perhaps an outreach team could be the new great idea for BA.

Simon Calder wouldn’t even need to work anymore if airlines just fulfilled their legal obligations. It’s the law, and BA should honour the law.

And then there’s IT…

Alex Cruz is one of the most tech focused airline executives, which makes chronic IT failures even more painful for all involved. They may have the best systems or boarding technology in some areas, but there’s clearly a part of the business where the IT team just isn’t cutting it.

I cannot help but be enraged when computer systems fail and strand passengers. For anyone who actually does follow the airline industry, this is hardly a “BA only” thing, so don’t be daft enough to think that this is only BA and that somehow they are special. They’re absolutely not, and IT failures continue to hamper other airlines and airports around the world with alarming frequency.

The same goes for data breaches, where British Airways is hardly alone either, joined by entities including the NHS, NORAD (US Missile Defence) Yahoo, Facebook, Mastercard, Marriott, Cathay Pacific… you get the gist. Pretending that these problems are isolated to BA is simply inaccurate, no matter how much you’d like them to be to fulfil the “BA shouldn’t be a flag carrier anymore” narrative that’s fun to tell your friends.

Alex Cruz Didn’t Take Your Flowers Away

“Find ways to reduce cost” doesn’t inherently mean take things away. It may mean “find better florists, or switch roses for lily’s or orchids”.

Company sources speaking on the condition of anonymity have indicated that the “cost cutting” reputation Cruz has garnered in the public is not entirely fair, or remotely deserved. Like any business facing headwinds and red circles, it was crucial for a leader to find creative approaches to better ways of doing business, and I’m sure orders were passed down to find ways to save money when Alex Cruz came in. But again, that doesn’t mean take away – it means do better. Naturally, squares can’t rectify this circle.

As a frequent paying customer, I am happier with British Airways now than I was two years ago when Alex Cruz took the job. I can fly BA on short haul because it’s usually a similar price, and since I do stay brand loyal, my experience with the new first wing at T5 is a competitive experience advantage, which keeps me loyal. On long haul, my experiences are slowly getting better too. There have been improvements in every cabin. Yes, they did start at the front of the plane, but new premium economy amenities and a better focus on economy comforts are now in full swing.

They’re catching up to others, just perhaps slower than some may like.

british airways business class seatI wouldn’t risk my reputation for many people in the world, but I believe in Alex Cruz as a thought leader of travel, who has time and time again iterated within his career to bring crucial change in rapidly shifting environments. Few businesses on earth are as fluid as the airline business as we head into 2020. His stewardship is a large reason I continue to fly with BA. There are other airlines, some even intimately connected to British Airways which I try not to fly if ever possible, because of their current stewardship. I do have choices, as do you.

Cruz was early onto the power of online booking in previous roles and technology has been a key focus throughout his tenure. BA was one of the first airlines to champion biometric boarding, which can board a double decker A380 in 20 minutes. It’s been the first to do electric airplane tows, which cut emissions at airports and the airline is working with shell to turn waste into jet fuel. There’s clever stuff happening, and I believe Alex Cruz is a central figure in turning these crucial stones of aviation future over.

But yeah, it all means nothing if you don’t get where you’re supposed to on time.

British Airways has challenges to overcome, but the rumours of departure for Alex Cruz and calls for his name in resignation aren’t the solution, they are counter productive. It’s fun to find a figurehead to blame, but operational change takes years, and a lot of change was needed here. There are probably still heads that *should* roll, which may have reached their highest level of incompetence, or rather are just so tone deaf to what passengers expect that they are incapable of success.

This airline needed a big kick in the ass, it needs to turn old thought processes into new innovation and of all the people in the airline industry that might be able to pull it off, Alex Cruz, by my estimation is amongst the best equipped. I do hear Jonny Ives is a free agent these days, but other than the guy who brought the iPhone and the iMac, I don’t see many people who could bring BA to a position of a truly leading and innovative airline like Alex Cruz can.

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