Former British Airways chief executive Alex Cruz, who suffered a serious data breach while running the carrier, has warned that airlines are being left behind by more nimble digital rivals because of their outdated technology.
“If you look at the underlying systems that all big airlines . . . rely on, it is 20, 30, 40, 50-year-old technology, it is truly amazing to see,” he said in his first interview since he stood down as BA boss last October.
Cruz, who has joined the board of Israeli digital start-up Fetcherr, was in charge of BA during a 2018 data breach that exposed personal and financial data of more than 400,000 customers.
The airline said it had made considerable improvements to security since the breach, which led to a £20m fine from the UK’s data protection regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Cruz also warned that the rise of companies with user-friendly technology such as Uber had left consumers demanding a better experience.
This is putting pressure on airlines to raise their game, particularly after widespread complaints over the processing of refunds from cancelled flights during the pandemic.
“We are being educated as consumers, to have super-high expectations on what digital relationships should be like with brands, [and] guess what, there are no travel brands today that can deliver that type of experience,” Cruz said.
He was ousted as BA boss in a management shake-up by parent company IAG, but stayed as the airline’s non-executive chair until this March.
Cruz has since become an adviser and board member at Fetcherr, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to forecast prices in the travel industry.
While the aviation industry has traditionally used pricing models based on demand over previous years, the pandemic has led to passenger demand becoming fast-shifting and hard to predict — which Fetcherr hopes to capitalise on.