British Airways’ CEO Alex Cruz Just Doesn’t Get It

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A couple of weeks ago British Airways CEO Alex Cruz was at the annual Aviation Club lunch and made a few comments about his airline that are worth a closer look.

It hasn’t been the greatest year for BA with IT outages causing chaos, crew strikes forcing the airline to borrow aircraft from Qatar Airways and the airline’s overall approval ratings as low as I can ever remember them…but Alex isn’t letting all that get to him.

Apparently Alex Cruz still sees British Airways as a premium airline while, at the same time, saying that the carrier makes “no apology” for the cost cutting that’s riled so many of its customers.

If Cruz actually believes that BA is still a premium airline then he’s delusional but, leaving that aside for a moment, I’d prefer to take a look at what else he had to say because was there was more nonsense to come.

Point 1 – British Airways has “far and away the best networks from London’s two most central airports, Heathrow and City”

Heathrow Airport Take Off

That’s actually true…but what’s Cruz’s point?

Saying that BA has the best network out of Heathrow and City Airports is like saying that American Airlines has the best network out of Dallas or that SWISS has the best network out of Zurich.

So what?

Heathrow is a fortress for British Airways not because BA is doing anything spectacularly right but because of history. Heathrow is famously slot-restricted and BA, as a legacy of being a government-owned entity, has always had considerably more slots at Heathrow than anyone else.

Does Cruz really think BA would stand a chance on short-haul routes if easyJet, Ryanair and Norwegian could get a foothold at Heathrow? I certainly don’t.

Point 2 – British Airways has “a fantastic loyalty program”

a red and blue logo

Erm…no it doesn’t.

Avios may be an ok currency to use for certain short-haul flights but on long-haul (where all the aspirational flights are) it’s a disaster.

British Airways imposes ridiculous surcharges on its reward flights to the extent that it’s rarely economical to book an Economy Class long-haul award (sometimes the surcharges actually mean that Avios are worth less than zero) and it’s almost cheaper to book premium cabin cash fares out of Europe (during sales) than it is to book premium cabin awards out of the UK.

Point 3 – British Airways is “the only UK operator to offer customers a choice of cabin on short-haul flights”

Again…so what?

BA may be the only UK operator to offer a choice of cabins on short-haul but it’s not the only airline flying to/from the UK which offers a choice. You do not have to fly with BA to fly in and out of the UK in a short-haul Business Class cabin.

Cruz’s comment is no different from Tim Clark boasting that Emirates is the only Dubai-based airline offering a Business Class cabin out of Dubai. It’s true….but it’s also meaningless as a host of other non Dubai-based airlines do exactly the same thing.

Besides, have you seen the BA short-haul Business Class cabin? It’s a joke and I can’t see the value.

a row of black and white seats in an airplaneBritish Airways A320 Club Europe

The legroom in British Airways short-haul Business Class is exactly the same as you’ll get in the Economy Class cabin (a super-cramped 30″ of seat pitch) and that’s not a premium product….no matter what Alex Cruz may claim.

Point 4 – “[T]he vast majority of [BA’s] long-haul fleet will be embodied with wifi by the end of next year”

Does Cruz expect a pat on the back for this?

Airlines have been offering over-water wi-fi for years and when you have the likes Norwegian already offering wi-fi on all their aircraft (short-haul and long-haul) it just emphasises how far BA have fallen.

BA is so far behind the curve on the installation of wi-fi on its aircraft that it’s embarrassing….and yet here we have the airline’s CEO trying to claim some sort of kudos by telling us that BA will be mostly caught up by the end of 2018 (which I’ll believe when I see).

Point 5 – Customers “will also see significant upgrades to catering for [BA’s] economy customers in the World Traveller cabin.

food on a tray on a tray

What Mr Cruz conveniently forgets to add here is that the “significant upgrades” are required thanks to the significant cuts he introduced in the first place.

Taking credit for this is like switching of a light in a crowded room and then taking credit for restoring light to proceedings by switching it back on!

Memo to Alex: if you screw something up you don’t get credit for trying to fix the mess.

Other Observations

There were a few other amusing things about Cruz’s comments to the Aviation Club including his comment that “[t]he differences with Vueling are stark: size, strength of the brand, complexity, the appreciation of BA’s heritage and, frankly, BA’s values.”

I have yet to see anything from Alex Cruz that suggests he doesn’t want to try to run British Airways like the low-cost carrier that Vuelling is.

I also don’t believe he realises that running BA like a low-cost airline is ruining the strong brand he claims BA has…..and he certainly doesn’t appear to appreciate the heritage that British Airways is rightly proud of.

Noticeably absent from Cruz’s speech was anything referring to a long overdue update to the Club World seats.

a seat in a plane

We already know that BA’s Business Class cabins are laughably far behind most of the competition and we also know from Cruz himself that the seats being installed in the soon-to-be-delivered A350 aren’t worth retrofitting into other aircraft….so when does BA plan to catch up on this front?

How can Alex Cruz say that “we are, and always will be, a premium airline” with a straight face when British Airways First Class is cabin is frequently referred to as a “very good Business Class product” and the airline’s Business Class cabin is on a lot of people’s “one to avoid” list?

Bottom Line

I’m still trying to work out if Alex Cruz actually believes all of the nonsense he comes out with or if he’s just saying all of this in the hope that no one notices how many travelers are now openly criticising his airline.

It’s quite telling that the little bits of positive news that we’ve seen come out of British Airways in recent months (allowing elites to select seats on Basic fares at the time of booking, improvements to the boarding process and the addition of new routes) are either remedies for previous screw ups or changes forced upon BA by the challenges posed by other airlines.

There seems to be a remarkable lack of innovation or imagination at BA and, as CEO, Alex Cruz has to take responsibility for this and then do something about it.

Perhaps he could start by talking a bit more sense (he’s not fooling the people he most needs to fool) and not treating British Airways like the budget carrier it is not.