British Airways CEO Alex Cruz has resigned with immediate effect. He will be replaced with Sean Doyle, who was Chief Executive of another IAG airline Aer Lingus.
Sean is no stranger to British Airways, having previously held several senior roles there. During his time at Aer Lingus, Sean made the airline IAG’s most profitable airline and yet also introduced customer-friendly policies. These included offering free wifi even in economy and being one of the first airlines to offer a bonus if customers took a voucher instead of a refund. Aer Lingus also acquired new smaller but long-range Airbus 321LRs to expand further into the US and become a hub airline at Dublin for Europe. They have ambitions to expand their North American routes by acquiring new aircraft and becoming a hub airline to connect through Dublin onto Europe.
Alex Cruz has been both CEO and Chairman of BA since April 2016, after leaving his former position as CEO of IAG low-cost airline Vueling. His departure will probably not come as a surprise to many in the know. Alex’s career at BA has been dogged with controversy. He first arrived at the airline as it started to slash the customer experience in a bid to cost cut. The airline has been extraordinarily profitable, but customer satisfaction scores sank and left many bitter about the airline. However, he did reverse this to some extent with a period of massive investment in customer experience. He rolled out new food offerings, a business class suite as well as new lounge designs worldwide.
Alex was also the CEO during BA’s worse IT failure in May 2017 when the airline canceled all flights at both London’s major airports Heathrow and Gatwick. The systems outage had a knock-on effect for several days afterward, with around 75,000 passengers affected. Most recently, Alex was at the helm when BA’s pilots went on strike for the first time in history. This cost the airline around $167 million. At the time, it was rumored that Alex was due to leave the business imminently as a result.
In the last few months, BA has been embroiled in yet more controversy over its “fire and rehire policy,” which has now been abandoned. The airlines have negotiated with unions for thousands of staff to leave the business to allow it to stay afloat during the pandemic. IAG’s finances have also been restructured to help it through the crisis.
IAG’s infamous CEO, Willie Walsh, recently retired from his post and was replaced by Luis Gallego from Iberia. It was probably inevitable that Alex would be replaced, given that most CEOs like to put a new team in place when they take over. In an email to staff, Alex said that he was leaving as he has been rethinking his career earlier in the year before COVID-19 hit. However, given the suddenness of his departure, many will assume that the decision to leave was not his own.
Other roles have been reshuffled too with Fernando Candela, LEVEL chief executive, joining the Group’s management committee in a new role of chief transformation officer. At Aer Lingus, Donal Moriarty, currently the airline’s chief corporate affairs officer, will become interim chief executive while a permanent replacement is found.
Sean Doyle will undoubtedly have his work cut out for him amid the current travel slump. Airline travel is down to less than 10% of this time last year by some estimates. Travel leaders are lobbying hard for the UK and US governments to agree on a testing solution to allowing safe travel, but as yet, no agreement has been reached. In the meantime, Sean will help Luis reshape the airline in terms of fleets, routes, and restructuring to weather the storm of COVID-19.