United Airlines chief executive Oscar Munoz underwent a heart transplant on Wednesday but the airline expects him to return to the helm by the northern spring, generally considered to begin in March.
Munoz has been on medical leave since suffering a heart attack in October. Brett Hart, the company’s general counsel, has run the airline in the meantime and will continue to run it until Munoz, 56, is back in the saddle.
United said the transplant was the preferred method of treatment rather than a setback for Munoz.
Munoz took over the top job at United Continental Holdings, parent of the world’s second-largest carrier as measured by revenue passenger kilometres, on 8 September 2015.
He took the reins after the airline ousted his predecessor Jeff Smisek during a US federal investigation into the airline’s ties with the former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. United Continental made the decision although Smisek has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
United has faced industrial relations problems since United’s merger with Continental in 2010 and Munoz has pledged to fix them.
United Airlines ranked lowest in customer satisfaction among the largest North American carriers, according to JD Power’s 2015 ranking.
Written by Peter Needham