Last updated: 09:04 AM ET, Mon March 07 2016

United CEO Oscar Munoz Returning To Work Next Week

Airlines & Airports | United Airlines | Josh Lew | March 07, 2016

United CEO Oscar Munoz Returning To Work Next Week

United Airlines announced that its CEO, Oscar Munoz, will be officially returning to work on March 14. It is a relatively rapid return for the executive, who suffered a serious heart attack in October of last year and underwent heart transplant surgery in early January. Even with consistent rumors of a quick recovery, it is probably safe to say that few people expected Munoz to physically be in the boardroom so soon after such a major procedure. 

Major decisions on the horizon

The airline’s general counsel, Brett Hart, has been acting as CEO during Munoz’s absence. However, even while he was recovering from the surgery, Munoz was reportedly taking part in the major decisions that United has been faced with thus far in 2016.

Munoz took the top position at United in September after serving for more than a decade on the Continental Airlines board of directors. He inherited a struggling company that had more than a few issues. United has had problems in recent years in terms of overall passenger numbers and profits and in terms of its customer satisfaction ratings. In a 2015 airline customer satisfaction survey conducted by JD Power and associates, only low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines was worse than United in the eyes of fliers.

READ MORE: United Airlines Shares Letter from CEO Oscar Munoz

Fixing employee relations is job number one

Munoz released a statement announcing his immanent return to his office in Chicago. In it, he says that his priorities haven't changed since he took the job in September. At that time, he had said that the first order of business was to improve employee relations and then rebuild the airline's image from there.

"I am thrilled to return full time to a job and the employees I love. Since September when I became CEO, our team has been focused on our employees, improving the operation and the customer experience, and the results are starting to show."

READ MORE: United's Pilots Get A Raise

Issues to tackle immediately

The airline was able to agree to a new contract with its pilots at the beginning of the year. It has also reached a tentative agreement with flight dispatchers. United’s mechanics, however, are threatening to strike and its flight attendants are in mediation as they try to hash out a deal that has been made more complicated by issues that haven't been solved since the merger with Continental Airlines. Munoz will need to act on these problems as soon as he sets foot in the office on March 14. 

Since Munoz has repeatedly said that employee relations are going to be the base for rebuilding United’s brand, there is a general sense of confidence that some sort of deal will be made during contract negotiations. The CEO has already invited leaders from the mechanics union to his office for a meeting on the first day that he gets back.

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