Smisek is out, Munoz is in, at United Airlines, so what’s next?


The past few weeks have been pretty busy, not just for me, but also for what I’d call “Big News.” Perhaps the biggest of that, was United Airlines firing Chief Executive Jeff Smisek. The reasoning is that this is related to a federal investigation regarding the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. It seems that the investigation came as part of the US Attorney’s investigation of the George Washington Bridge–aka Bridgegate— issue (my word, others might use something like “scandal”). The long and short of how Jeff Smisek and United got involved though, was because they provided a twice-weekly flight between Newark and Columbia, South Carolina, that happened to gain favor from Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Chairman David Samson, and provided an easy flight to his vacation home. It probably didn’t look too good when United cancelled the flight days after Chairman Samson left the position (referenced by Ed in his post about the matter).

When I first read about Smisek’s outing, I was jumping for joy, not really knowing Oscar Munoz, nor his accomplishments at CSX. Of course, when I look a little more closely, it really seems like despite many folks asking questions (reference the above View from the Wing post about United cancelling the Chairman’s flight), that this was really a knee-jerk reaction. I don’t see Mr. Munoz as being “groomed” for leading United (in fact, the link about Mr. Munoz implies he was being groomed for CEO of CSX). So here we have a CEO shown the door quickly, who can respond quickly? Someone in-house or on the board. Mr. Munoz fits that bill. Further, based on his biography from United, it looks like he’s a legacy Continental board member, which to me, implies that we won’t see a drastic change in direction. But, I could be wrong.

Mr. Munoz’s comments about improving the customer experience is an obvious step in the right direction. He’s already done one thing right, which is, that he hasn’t said that United has too many elite frequent-fliers.

It will be interesting to see what Mr. Munoz does do, and how he changes the discussion and perception of United Airlines. Many decisions have already been made for him, such as buying 10 777-300ER’s (my favorite plane, I might add, just not in 10-abreast economy), however, re-winning the hearts and minds of flyers is a battle that is very much in his court, and if this quote is indicative:

United has an incredible opportunity for improving an experience that is essential to the vitality of global business and to the personal lives of millions of people, for innovation and for earnings growth – Oscar Munoz in United Statement

Then, he’s up for the task, and will keep it front and center.

Overall though, I think this will be a great move for the airline, as I think many didn’t like the “monkey see, monkey do” approach of the former regime, I can only hope that Mr. Munoz takes a different path.

What do you think? Do you see changes you will like, in United’s future?

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