United Airlines transfers CEO Oscar Munoz to executive chairman role

Munoz is handing off CEO duties to president Scott Kirby.

Oscar Munoz is grilled by lawmakers in 2017 after the David Dao incident. (Photo credit: Getty Images).
Oscar Munoz is grilled by lawmakers in 2017 after the David Dao incident. (Photo credit: Getty Images).

CHICAGO: United Airlines is moving CEO Oscar Munoz to the role of executive chairman. He will be replaced in the airline’s top job by president Scott Kirby. 

The leadership transition is set to take place in May, when Munoz succeeds executive chairman Jane Garvey, who is retiring.

The tenure of Munoz, who took on the role of CEO in 2015, was described as "turmoil then growth" by CNBC.

Early in his tenure, Munoz was praised for negotiating union contracts. However, in 2017, security violently dragged passenger David Dao from his seat on an oversold flight. The recorded incident resulted in a crisis for United, which took days to apologize to Dao. 

Munoz’s first statement about the incident did little to calm public outrage. "This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United," Munoz said in his initial response. "I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened."

At the time, United Airlines’ board suspended plans to promote Munoz to chairman. Two months after the Dao incident, the airline promoted general counsel and EVP Brett Hart to oversee communications as chief administrative officer and general counsel. Former SVP of communications Jim Olson resigned from United at the end of 2017. Former White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest replaced Olson as chief communications officer in May 2018. 

The carrier also faced a social media crisis in 2017 known as #LeggingsGate after girls were not allowed to board a flight because their leggings did not meet an airline dress code. In 2018, a French bulldog suffocated to death after a flight attendant allegedly insisted that the animal be stowed in an overhead bin. 

When Earnest interviewed for the job, Munoz asking him why he wanted it. "Because I think I can help," Earnest recalled saying at this year’s PRDecoded conference. "I hope he took it the right way."

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