“Profusely Sorry” Airline CEO Goes High-Visibility Following Year of Apology Botches

British Airways CEO Alex Cruz (photo courtesy of British Airways)

After United CEO Oscar Munoz’s dismal performance in the apology business, it’s not surprising to find others wanting to say sorry fast in the event of a PR crisis. But is anyone getting it right yet?

Munoz, of course, was widely panned for failing to take responsibility for the airline’s violent forced removal of a paying passenger. And by the time he did express remorse, it all came too late to appear genuine, leaving the airline’s reputation in tatters.

Now, perhaps with Munoz in mind, British Airways CEO Alex Cruz hasn’t wasted much time getting into contrition mode. He was prompted to act by a disastrous IT system failure that grounded tens of dozens of flights and stranded a staggering 75,000 passengers, just in time for the holiday weekend.

“We are extremely sorry for the huge inconvenience this is causing our customers,” Cruz said in a video statement released on the airline’s website and social media pages on Saturday. “And we understand how frustrating this must be, especially for families hoping to get away on their holiday.”

“We are extremely sorry for the huge inconvenience this is causing our customers.”

Cruz was dressed in a yellow high-visibility vest—presumably to display a workmanlike image while he and his colleagues scrambled to fix the problem. Or maybe he was spending so much time in dangerous parts of airports that the vest was a genuine safety requirement.

The next day, Cruz was back with a second video update and apology (though this time without the vest). “I know this has been a horrible time for customers. Some of you have missed holidays, some of you have been stranded on aircraft and some of you have been separated from your bags,” he said.

By yesterday, which was day three of the crisis, Cruz had appeared on the BBC to apologize for a third time. “We are profusely, profusely apologetic about what has happened,” he said.

Cruise’s response is reminiscent of Delta CEO Ed Bastion’s efforts in September. He also appeared in a company video message, on consecutive days, apologizing swiftly and directly for a technical glitch that grounded dozens of flights. Both leaders ticked important boxes: they quickly took full responsibility for the problem, clearly described what caused it and detailed what they were doing to fix things.

But alas, maybe they could have done better. Cruz is now facing criticism for only posting his initial apologies on company-controlled outlets, rather than facing the media on day one.

Links also are being made to the system outage, apparently caused by a power surge, and deep cost cuts Cruz has made at British Airways, including outsourcing some of its back- office functions. On Sunday, Cruz said there was no connection, since the problem’s source was in the UK, where there has been no outsourcing.

But his efforts show there’s probably only one perfect way for a CEO of a major company to apologize: don’t have anything to apologize for in the first place.

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Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.

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