British Airways boss Alex Cruz defends decision to axe 12,000 jobs

Willie Walsh, 58, first joined the aviation field in 1979, when at the age of 17 he became a trainee pilot for Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus. 

He completed a Master’s degree in management and business administration at Trinity College, Dublin while in this role, before advancing to become a Boeing 737 captain.

Mr Walsh then joined company management and held positions including chief executive for then-company subsidiary Futura from 1998 to 2000.

In 2000, he returned to Aer Lingus as Chief Operating Officer and rose to CEO, succeeding Michael Foley, a year later.

Throughout his time as CEO, Mr Walsh reconfigured Aer Lingus as a budget airline – removing short-haul Business Class options and axing around 2,500 jobs in a time of financial instability. The move earned him the nickname ‘Slasher.’

Willie Walsh, 58, first joined the aviation field in 1979, when at the age of 17 he became a trainee pilot for Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus

He resigned from the company in January 2005, and briefly worked for Virgin Atlantic before joining British Airways in May.

Mr Walsh became chief executive of the airline that October, succeeding Rod Eddington.

The former pilot presided over BA until 2011, a turbulent time for the airline industry as it dealt with continued fallout from 9/11 and the financial crisis.   

This period saw several BA disasters, including an IT shutdown in 2017 which left 75,000 bank holiday passengers stranded, and a bitter dispute with pilots’ pay which brought huge disruption to passengers in September last year.

The dispute saw 3,000 pilots go on strike, causing sweeping cancellations and costing the airline £121million in one of the most damaging periods in the airline’s 100-year history.

The industrial action came a year after hackers stole the personal data of half-a-million BA customers in a breach which led to a £183million fine.      

BA cut staff numbers by 6,000 between 2008 and 2010 with Mr Walsh calling striking cabin crew ‘dysfunctional’ and claiming some staff were ‘out of touch with reality’. 

In 2011, British Airways joined forces with Spanish airline Iberia in a £5 billion merger to create IAG. Mr Walsh saw his salary rise from £735,000 to £825,000 following the merger and in 2015 it was reported that his total pay was almost £5million.

He was reported to have received pay and bonuses of just under £4million in 2017, up 60 per cent from £2.46million in 2016.  

From his position at IAG, Walsh was said to hold much of the power for finances at BA – and some blamed him when a computer meltdown hit 75,000 air passengers in 2017.

Mr Walsh had insisted that rather than ‘cost-cutting’ the drastic measures taken under his tenure were more akin to ‘efficiency’. 

He announced in January this year he would be stepping down from the role in March, but later opted to delay his retirement in order to guide the airline through the pandemic.