London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing – 19 October 2020

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Sean Doyle, Chief Executive, British Airways
Sean Doyle, Chief Executive, British Airways (Image Credit: Aer Lingus)

Welcome to London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing for the week beginning 19 October 2020.

Sean Doyle Replaces Alex Cruz

When Keith Williams was promoted from Chief Financial Officer to become BA’s first CEO after the formation of IAG in 2011, Willie Walsh left BA with a not particularly subtle message about who was really in charge.

He was reported to have quipped to reporters that Keith had been promoted from the 2nd most important job in BA to the 2nd most important job in BA.

Last week, Sean Doyle was promoted to the 2nd most important job in BA after Alex Cruz departed the airline. This was the first major management reshuffle by IAG CEO Luis Gallego. For a group that likes to make much of the fact that it can move executives around the group, no alternative role in IAG was found for Alex.

Although Sean has a relatively low profile, his appointment has been welcomed. Colleagues praise his attention to detail and knowledge of the industry. This is clearly not seen as the time to bring in an outsider. One former colleague told the Financial Times:

“He will make the decisions that will need to be made, but will be able to bring people with him. There really are not that many people with the depth and breadth of experience of the company,”

Before becoming CEO of Aer Lingus, Sean was responsible for fleet and network planning at BA, as well as its joint-business with American Airlines. All of these will be a focus in the coming years.

As for Alex Cruz, there’s been no shortage of comment on his departure. The most balanced comes from John Strickland for Forbes who rightly points out that some of things BA has been criticised for during Alex’s leadership were not of his making.

It was, after all, Willie Walsh’s insistence a few years ago that BA did not need to change the layout of its Club World cabin. Decisions on aircraft density, as well as many other matters like new aircraft orders and capital expenditure, sit with IAG not BA.

That said, a lot of unnecessary negative publicity could have been avoided with a little foresight. Saying BA might withdraw free meals in long-haul economy when there was nothing close to a plan to do so, caused a lot of unnecessary negative headlines. Many negative headlines about the introduction of buy-on-board in short-haul economy could have been avoided if it was properly tested on a smaller scale at Gatwick first, before being rolled out at Heathrow.

Few who have followed BA’s approach to industrial relations over decades would have believed it would have ever gone ahead with a threat, no doubt the work of lawyers, to “fire and rehire” staff. But it was clearly wrong-footed by how this was seized upon by staff and trade unions. Hence what felt like an overly rehearsed performance by Alex before the Transport Select Committee last month.

Back to Sean Doyle, he is due to speak at the Airlines 2050 virtual conference at 10:15 BST today. Luis Gallego will also present his first IAG quarterly results next Friday, 30 October.

Winter Timetable

The clocks go back one hour in the UK on Sunday 25 October. This also marks the start of the winter timetable.

Ordinarily, we should be able to present a long list of schedule changes for the winter season. Not this year.

At London Heathrow, BA will resume short-haul flights to Basel, Billund, Gran Canaria, Malta, Vienna and Zagreb. Flights also resume to Amman which, along with Moscow Domodedovo, switches to short-haul configured aircraft.

Next month, BA will also resume scheduled long-haul flights from London Heathrow to Bangkok, Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Santiago and Seoul. Many other routes benefit from frequency increases, including Boston which switches to twice daily. BA will also return to Orlando and Mauritius at Gatwick.

Business Travel Is Not Over

Quote of the week goes to United Airlines CEO Scott Kirkby who said on LinkedIn:

“The first time a company loses a client to a competitor because they didn’t fly in to close the deal, will be the last time.”

As this United Airlines advert from 1990 shows the suggestion that technology can replace face to face contact is not new:

In case you missed it:

BA unveils its modified First Class seat on new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. (London Air Travel)

Alaska Airlines will join the Oneworld alliance on 31 March 2021. (London Air Travel)

Also of note this week:

Cyrus Capital, one of the investors in the Connect Airways consortium, is reported to be planning to resurrect the Flybe brand. (Sky News)

How United Airlines undertakes fleet planning during COVID-19. (New York Times)

Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah is to be replaced by former Jetstar CEO Jayne Hrdlicka. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

The New York Times speculates about the future of hotel design. (New York Times)

“A Pilot’s Son Takes Flight” by Ed Caesar. (The New Yorker)

Late post publication updates:

[Reserved for updates throughout the day]

Flybe’s brand and certain assets have been sold by the airline’s administrators EY to “Thyme Opco” a company formed by Cyrus Capital. It plans to relaunch Flybe next year. It’s not clear whether this could mean Flybe returns to Heathrow as the administrators are challenging IAG’s decision to take back the bmi remedy slots.

Sean Doyle has given an address to the Airlines 2050 conference. Sean says that BA is typically carrying less than 200 passengers a day to New York. There has been no support or action from governments on opening a London – New York corridor without blanket quarantine restrictions, nor any insight into government thinking. Sean has reiterated that removing 14 day quarantine restrictions and introducing pre-flight COVID-19 is essential to reopening routes.

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