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IAG’s Willie Walsh Suddenly Steps Down

IAG’s Willie Walsh Suddenly Steps Down

Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines Group (IAG), which owns British Airways, announced his plans to retire as chief executive of IAG and from its board. Walsh will make his departure in June.

Mr. Walsh said, “It has been a privilege to have been instrumental in the creation and development of IAG. I have had the pleasure of working with many exceptional people over the past 15 years at British Airways and at IAG.”

Willie Walsh’s Long History

Willie Walsh was chief executive at British Airways and then IAG for 15 years. He began his career in aviation in the late 1970s as a cadet pilot with Aer Lingus. Walsh worked his way up through the ranks and was appointed as chief executive of Aer Lingus in 2001.

During his 15-year tenure, he returned the airline to profitability, reduced the power of unions at the company, and extended British Airways’ reach beyond Heathrow and the UK. However, during that time, many British Airways’ passengers have decried the airlines’ transition from the “world’s favorite” to an average carrier.

Among frequent fliers, Walsh garnered the nickname “Slasher” for spearheading the cutbacks that drove BA downward in customer satisfaction rankings. But, while British Airways certainly changed during Walsh’s tenure, as one FlyerTalker noted, the fault wasn’t all Walsh’s: “I don’t think a publicly owned airline anywhere in the world can generate significant profits while delivering 1960’s soft product and 2020’s hard product, joe public (& increasingly most corporate travel budgets) just won’t pay the premium.”

Trouble at British Airways

Willie Walsh’s departure comes just a few months after what may be British Airways’ largest disruption. For the first time in BA’s 100-year history, its pilots went on strike over a long-running pay dispute. In November 2019, dozens of British Airways flights were delayed or canceled.

Several months before this incident, in July 2019, British Airways was fined £183m–the biggest penalty the Information Commissioner’s Office has handed out–when the details of roughly 500,000 customers were harvested by hackers. Said Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, “People’s personal data is just that – personal. When an organization fails to protect it from loss, damage or theft, it is more than an inconvenience.”

Who Will Head IAG Now?

Luis Gallego, head of IAG’s Spanish division, Iberia, will succeed Walsh.  Noted one FlyerTalker, “Incidentally, interesting that they would pick the head of Iberia rather than that of British Airways as the successor to the group CEO.

“On this thread, we often underestimate how strongly Iberia’s financial and operational situation has improved in recent years (and all that without any major IT and operational system scandals and without as tensed employer-employee relations as on the British Airways side) and the significant impact of those improved figures on the group’s overall results.”

What can we expect from Gallego? “I personally think Luis Gallego did a cracking job at Iberia, on many fronts,” said one FlyerTalker. “The turnaround at IB has been nothing short of remarkable and they’ve delivered changes in half the time that BA has, with a quarter of the dithering and delays.
“Also, they’re not usually in the habit of introducing something, advertising it as the best thing since sliced bread, then water it down to the point that it’s nothing but window dressing. If I compare the Iberia of 2010 with the IB of today, from a point of view of onboard service, of hard product and of the airport experience at Madrid, it’s really gotten better.”
What do you think of the future of British Airways with Wille Walsh out and Luis Gallego in? Let us know in the FlyerTalk thread on the topic.
View Comments (4)


  1. rmadisonwi

    January 10, 2020 at 6:16 am

    It’s January, and he’s leaving in June. I think you may need to relearn the definition of the word “suddenly.”

  2. Ramos

    January 10, 2020 at 12:54 pm

    I fly both airlines on a regular basis and have to say that on short haul IB beats BA hands down every time (can’t comment on long haul as not flown on IB yet) and can only view Gallego’s appointment as an improvement

  3. FlyingHighlander

    January 11, 2020 at 6:35 am

    What’s sudden about this?

  4. Gaikhao

    January 12, 2020 at 12:10 am

    Was he “encouraged” to go?

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