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United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz is stepping down

Lauren Zumbach, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

CHICAGO -- United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, who worked to restore the Chicago-based airline's image during a rocky period that included a 2017 incident in which a passenger was dragged off a flight, is stepping down and will be replaced by the second-in-command he recruited from rival American Airlines three years ago.

J. Scott Kirby, now serving as the airline's president, will take over for Munoz on May 20, following the company's annual meeting. Munoz recruited Kirby, then the No. 2 executive at rival American Airlines, in 2016.

"With United in a stronger position than ever, now is the right time to begin the process of passing the baton to a new leader," Munoz said in a news release.

Munoz will become executive chairman and will hold the post for a year, United said. The airline's current chairman, former Federal Aviation Administration chief Jane Garvey, will retire after serving on the board for two years.

Munoz, who had been president at railroad company CSX and a longtime United board member, was named United's CEO on Sept. 8, 2015 after the unexpected resignation of former CEO Jeff Smisek, at what Garvey called "one of the most challenging points in United's history." Munoz suffered a heart attack just weeks later, on Oct. 15, and received a heart transplant in January 2016.

Munoz led the company through a choppy period, and in 2017 gave up his bonus after the forcible removal of a ticketed passenger led to widespread criticism. Legislative hearings followed, and Munoz promised a "culture shift" and a list of policy changes, including additional employee training and limiting use of law enforcement on aircraft to safety and security issues. Other airlines chimed in with plans to limit problems resulting from overbooking, and new procedures were implemented.

"His focus on putting customers and employees first has transformed United's culture today and successfully positioned the company for tomorrow," Garvey said in a news release.

 

United tied Smisek's exit and the firing of two of his top lieutenants to internal and federal investigations involving allegedly improperly currying favor with then-Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Chairman David Samson. United reinstated a money-losing route from Newark to an airport near Samson's South Carolina vacation home.

Shares of United Airlines Holdings are up 5% this year.

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