An unusual battle has erupted between two airline titans over who is to blame for a traveler mess that has ruined holidaymakers’ summer plans. While many are stuck in queues or waiting hours for their bags to arrive, former Heathrow chairman Sir Nigel Rudd and ex-BA boss Willie Walsh have been involved in a verbal spat this weekend.
City veteran Rudd lashed out at Walsh, accusing him of an “obsession” with cost-cutting that had made the airline “a laughing stock”. Rudd, who led Heathrow from 2007 to 2016, said British Airways had “lost its way under Willie”.
His comments came in a letter he sent to The Mail on Sunday this weekend after being angered by Walsh’s comments in this newspaper last week in which the former BA boss called Heathrow’s 100,000 passenger limit a “farce” per day.
Head-to-head: “Slasher” Walsh vs. Razor Rudd in a fierce battle of air barons
The controversial decision to limit the number of passengers was made to reduce queues. The decision, which has angered airlines, will limit arrivals and departures until the end of October.
In his letter, he accuses Walsh of “constantly screwing up Heathrow”. Recalling his own time in the group’s seat at the airport, Rudd said he “wanted to fight back” but was advised not to. “The overwhelming view was that we couldn’t because he was our biggest customer,” Rudd added. “I wish I had ignored that advice and exposed him for what he was: a man who trashed a great brand and created a company that is the epitome of poor service.”
Walsh was chief executive of British Airways and then ran its parent company International Airlines Group from 2011 to 2021, following the British carrier’s merger with Spain’s Iberia.
At the Ministry of Defense at the weekend, he criticized Heathrow chief John Holland-Kaye for his failure to cope with a surge in demand over the summer holidays, claiming the airport “should have been better prepared” and “obviously couldn’t cope”. Walsh added: “If we’re in the same position next year, there’s no doubt people will have to be made redundant.” The 60-year-old Irishman even called Heathrow bosses “a bunch of idiots”. He also backed calls for investors – Spanish giant Ferrovial and the Qatar Investment Authority – to hoard cash instead of asking the regulator for permission to charge passengers more to shore up its financials.
“The shareholders are extremely wealthy,” Walsh said. “They did very well at Heathrow. I think there is a strong argument that if Heathrow’s balance sheet needs to be fixed, it should be done by its shareholders in the first place.”
He now heads the International Air Transport Association, which represents hundreds of airlines, including his former employer IAG.
He told MS: “I think they are [Heathrow] it was necessary to prepare better. It is a farce for the airlines to impose these restrictions at the last minute when in many cases they have sold tickets. It’s a terrible way to do business.”
But Rudd, 75, said: “I was chairman of Heathrow when Willie Walsh ran British Airways. While I presided over an unprecedented investment in critical national airport infrastructure, on his watch I saw a man so obsessed with “cutting” costs that our nation’s national carrier went from being one of the best in the world to a laughingstock.
“Free economy meals and free checked bags have been refused, hard-working crews are sleeping in cars because their pay was so low, thousands of people have been fired and re-hired on worse contracts, and critical IT systems have been left to rot, leaving millions without jobs when they stopped working. . Today, whenever BA is brought up in conversation with me, the general consensus is that it is an airline that has completely lost its way under Willie. I’m relieved to see the current BA management team flush his approach down the toilet.”
Walsh, once nicknamed “The Reaper”, was among the airline bosses who cut thousands of jobs at the start of the pandemic – more than 12,000 at International Airlines Group, which he runs until 2021. EasyJet made a similar decision, cutting 4,500 jobs.
Rudd continued: “Willie made the paper last week about airports not being ready for summer, but the irony is that he seems completely oblivious to the fact that it’s just his cost-cutting legacy coming home.”
Rudd said that the reason for the crisis in the industry was a shortage of truckers. He urged Walsh to encourage members to invest in them and solve the problem.
More than 50 percent of ground handling staff in Europe have left the industry in the past two years, with many moving to higher-paying delivery jobs.
“Why would anyone want to be an airline ground attendant when you can get better pay and better delivery conditions for Amazon?”
“It’s long past time for him to stop blaming everyone else… and accept that you can’t ‘cut your way’ to a sustainable, reliable service.”
But Walsh hit back last night, saying: “Heathrow’s efforts to distract from their terrible work are laughable.” He added: “My criticism seems to have upset them. I will continue to hold them accountable and am happy to expose their failings.”
RUTH SUNDERLAND: Stop fighting… and help the paying public instead
While it’s fun to see two corporate titans knock the seven bells out of each other, I think I speak for most travelers when I say that Sir Nigel Rudd and Willie Walsh could have used their verbal talents a lot better.
Instead of throwing a stream of resentment and bile at each other, these two airline giants should focus on helping customers.
Who is right in line? The most terrifying thing is that they are both. There is a lot of truth in their mutual accusations, and it does not comfort passengers whose vacations and business trips have been disrupted. Never before has a phrase about a pot and a kettle been so apt.
When Rudd, sounding like a shop steward on steroids, accuses Walsh of being obsessed with cost-cutting, he hits a nerve.
For his part, Walsh is on the money when he criticizes Heathrow’s move to limit passenger numbers as a “farce”. He’s also quite right to say that the airport’s wealthy foreign shareholders should put their hands in their pockets to repair its debt-ridden balance sheet.
Neither man has a reputation as a corporate saint – in fact, they both have enough baggage to drown out the merry-go-round.
When he was chief executive of parent company BA, Walsh’s relationship with the unions was toxic. Here’s just one example: at the start of the pandemic, he was attacked by MPs who suspected him of using Covid as a cover to cut 12,000 jobs.
Veteran industrialist Rudd is a serial chairman who has sold a number of British companies to foreign bidders, earning him the nickname Sir Salesman. The latest of these, defense firm Meggitt, has just been cleared by the government to be sold to a US aerospace company.
Both have a reputation for being open-minded. As former bosses, they are able to dispense with diplomacy in a way that the current Heathrow and Bachelor management cannot. Whether pushed to do so by their former employers or acting on their own initiative, they are the trusted generals in the uneducable struggle to deflect blame.
Instead of this condescending festival, Walsh and Rudd could use their status as elder statesmen to cooperate in easing the chaos at the airport.
Big chance. Each of them assumed a posture of bristling self-righteous indignation, painting their organization as the aggrieved party. This has more than a hint of absurdity coming from a couple of very rich people who represent powerful corporate interests.
Neither of them seem to care much about the real victims here – the poor old passengers.
Sir Nigel Rudd: The letter in full
I was chairman of Heathrow when Willie Walsh ran British Airways.
As I presided over an unprecedented investment in critical national airport infrastructure, on his watch I saw a man so obsessed with “cutting” costs that our nation’s premier airline went from being one of the world’s best to a laughing stock.
Free economy meals and free baggage allowances were denied, hard-working flight crews slept in their cars because their pay was so low, thousands of people were fired and rehired on worse contracts, and critical IT systems were left to rot, leaving millions out of work when they stopped working.
Today, whenever BA is brought up in conversation with me, the general consensus is that it is an airline that has completely lost its way under Willie. I’m relieved to see the current BA management team flush his approach down the toilet.
Willie wrote in the paper last week that airports are not ready for summer, but the irony is that he seems completely oblivious to the fact that this is simply his cost-cutting legacy on his way home.
The main problem facing the aviation system in Europe this summer is the lack of ground-handling airlines. It is precisely because airlines have for so long squeezed tighter and tighter contracts out of their ground handlers that there is a shortage of people willing to work for them.
Why would anyone be an airline ground attendant when you can get a higher salary and better shipping conditions for Amazon?
Airlines have failed to increase the number of their ground handlers at Heathrow since January, despite the announcement that passenger demand would return to pre-pandemic levels this year. Important questions need to be asked, including why did the airlines allow this to happen?
The reality is that Willie Walsh is a man whose instinct is to drive ever higher share prices, rather than investing to deliver the best results for commuters.
When I was chairman I wanted to counter his constant hurling against Heathrow. The prevailing opinion was that we could not fight back since he was our biggest customer. I wish I had ignored that advice and exposed him for what he was.
A man who crushed a great brand and created a company that is the epitome of poor service. It’s high time you stop blaming everyone else, take a cold look in the mirror and admit that you can’t “cut your way” to a sustainable, reliable service.
Willie may not know what that looks like, but for a start he would be wise to make every effort to get members of his airline to invest more in their ground handlers rather than shifting the responsibility to someone else.
Sir Nigel Rudd, dauormer chairman of Heathrow Airport
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them, we may earn a small commission. This helps us fund This Is Money and stay free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow commercial relationships to influence our editorial independence.
Willie Walsh and Sir Nigel Rudd trade blows in fierce travel chaos clash
Source link Willie Walsh and Sir Nigel Rudd trade blows in fierce travel chaos clash