Here’s Why United’s CEO Doesn’t Fly His Own Airline

Filed Under: Media

Last September Jeff Smisek stepped down as United CEO, following the scandal involving the Chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Smisek was replaced by Oscar Munoz, who seems like a good guy who genuinely wants to change United for the better. Unfortunately Munoz suffered a heart attack about a month into his tenure.


While Munoz said he was “on the road to recovery” last November, it sure seemed like a long road, given that he had a heart transplant in January of this year. Still, he immediately said he expected to return in the first quarter of 2016, which seemed highly optimistic following such a procedure.

Sure enough, Munoz returned to his job in March, and has made a surprising number of appearances since then. Yesterday he hosted the unveiling of United’s new premium product at Webster Hall in New York, something which was covered extensively.

However, there was an interesting tidbit in one of the articles about the new product, concerning how United’s CEO never actually flies United. Via an AP article by Scott Mayerowitz:

Munoz was named CEO of United Continental Holdings Inc. last fall but took medical leave in October after suffering a heart attack just six weeks into the job. In January he had a heart transplant and returned to work full-time in March.

Since then, Munoz has been flying around the country visiting employees and key clients. Under doctor’s orders, he’s only flown on private planes following the transplant, avoiding all commercial jets, including those of his own airline.

Munoz says he tours enough planes on the ground and sees employees in action and that the flight restriction will be lifted in a few weeks.

While I don’t know exactly what makes a private jet better than a commercial jet for someone who is functional but recently had a heart transplant (maybe a doctor can chime in here?), I of course assume it’s legit.

It’s different than United’s CEO several years back, Glenn Tilton, who was rumored to never eat or drink anything on planes out of fear of being poisoned by the crew.

  1. Lucky,

    Very simple as someone who had a loved one undergo a transplant in the last 6 months it has to do with bacterial and viral infections. Specifically individuals who have a transplant are placed on immunosuppressants for the rest of their life which means they have no immune system. As such, being on a commercial jet with numerous other individuals where the air is circulated and one or more of those individuals is likely to have a cold you increase your odds of catching the virus or bacteria. In addition, it typically takes 6 to 12 months for the medications to be fully tweaked which is why doctors advise patients who have undergone a transplant to not fly and also to limit their exposure to sick individuals and where a mask out in public similar to those that you see worn by many in China and other Asian countries.

    This is definitely a real issue and should not be taken lightly by anyone who has undergone a transplant.

  2. When you undergo a transplant, your immune system is severely at risk of an attack (due to all the immunosuppressants you are required to take). Most people are expected to avoid leaving their homes / mixing with a lot of people. He can’t afford to do that given he is the CEO of a major corp, so flying private minimizes the interaction he has with other people.

  3. Chances are due to the transplant he has to take medications that suppress his immune system so he can avoid rejecting his new heart. Flying commercially in a crowded plane would probably be more dangerous for him than the average passenger. Just a guess.

  4. This is a very tmz shitty article. Your turning into parez Hilton. You are better than this Ben.

  5. Ben a little research on your part would have answered this question. We read this for real news, not tabloid sensationalism. Step up your game and don’t fall into the gutter.

  6. I don’t need a heart attack/organ transplant to avoid United. Having an overnight delay on the one and only UA flight I’ve had all year is reason enough.

  7. Total clickbait – why not just write an article about how you are banned from United? That’d be a lot more interesting.

  8. What the actual FU*K Ben?
    You’re a blogger, this blog was way better when you had fewer readers but as the number of readers increase the amount of shit posted by you keeps increasing, more clickbait articles, posts that are just copy pasted news articles with a question at the end to garner more comments and so on…

  9. Sometimes Lucky comes across as having a very childish mentality, and it is happening with increasing frequency. Instead of writing truly valuable travel-related articles, it seems you are writing articles in the hope of getting traffic.

    A few weeks ago, there was the “the rules don’t apply to me” article….flaunting the cell phone/airplane mode directive.

    Now….what high schooler does not understand the possibility of rejection following an organ transplant? If he continues his work, of course Muñoz needs to place himself in an environment that diminishes contact with lots of people.

    Lucky, your naïveté is showing …. and it’s not pretty. Time to grow up a little — if that’s how you want to be seen.

  10. I would really like to hear your United story, Ben. Maybe by sharing the story, United would be compelled to work something out?

  11. I don’t understand what prevented you from just googling “heart transplant air travel,” which would have immediately clarified the problem. I know you’re not a journalist, but come on, that’s the type of investigation that even middle schoolers with minimal curiosity are capable of…

  12. @Lucky I met Oscar at the GS event that was held at Gotham Hall yesterday and I tried to put in a good word for you with him. Hating on his health issue is not right if you are trying to come back home to your original love.

  13. Although the primary reason is related to his health I think there is another reason to fly private, it is much more efficient. While it is easy to be jealous and/or snarky about high ranking business people or government officials flying around in private aircraft (and there are instances where it can get abused of course), in reality, those folks are really busy with huge demands on their time. Having Mr Munoz sitting around an airport or standing in a security line is just not a very efficient use of his day.

    Given that he runs the airline he would definitely want to experience the product and interface with employees periodically. But flying regularly scheduled United flights? Not so much.

    PS: I will add my voice to the chorus that this piece (especially the headline) was below your standard.

  14. maybe if recirculated air is such an issue on planes and making people sick, he should use this knowledge and United should invest in research of better air filtration technology that they can install on their planes. or maybe United should clean their planes better. getting sick on planes from other passengers’ germs puts me off the idea of flying too much

  15. If you have ever watched a cleaning crew at work following a flight, you will realize very quickly that nothing is actually “cleaned.” The same wiping cloths are used over and over on tray tables and arm rests, just spreading germs evenly throughout the cabins. I don’t even want to think about the biohazard situation in the lavatories. I always shower as soon as I arrive at my hotel or return home following flights.

    If I were him, I’d probably never fly commercial again.

  16. Total clickbait title and tabloid-esque article. The article doesn’t even address “Here’s Why” as the title says, and you’re implying in the title he’s flying a commercial competitor. Please don’t degrade the quality of one of my “go to” blogs.

  17. No not hyperbole – Ben is banned from United & despite a brief mention of it in a Rolling Stones article, he *never* talks about it.

  18. @Keith: I don’t know why Ben had more trust in the readers of Rolling Stone than of his blog, especially when the UA ban has such a devastating effect on the blog’s content. As one who has always admired Ben for his openness, this continues to perplex me.

    At this point, with new UA management, I would think that there is a good chance of their reversing the ban, if Ben made an effort to ask them to do so. But once again, we, his loyal readers, are left in the dark. So, it is not out of place to wonder if Ben’s current relationship with UA is rooted in bitterness and revenge, or if he is open to flying UA if they would agree to it.

    As it stands, Ben has put his readers in the middle.

  19. @Keith

    Wow. Thanks for the reply. Now I am curious….about how/why? If I were to hazard a guess, either they didn’t like something he wrote about…and/or he found a loophole and used/exploited it. e.g. bought a bunch of 1st class erroneous fare tickets so they found a way/reason to ban him rather than honor them.

  20. I think this post was fine. You all should steer clear of view from the wing if this flavor of content offends you. The two blogs are exactly the same this morning

  21. In re: UA — Fraudulent reuse of travel vouchers (“exploiting” or “hacking” a “glitch”) equals Lifetime Ban.


    res ipsa loquitor

  22. More TMZ clickbait – but hey, so long as it drives up page views who cares?!

    If you really had doubts about the explanation given, Google is your friend, Ben, this isn’t rocket science to figure out.

    I’m sure an additional factor is that flying privately in a biz jet opens up more options for emergency landings at airports that may be accessible to a nearby hospital but might not accommodate a 737, 767, etc.

  23. Total clickbait, but kudos for letting through comments on your UA ban.
    An post on that would indeed be far more interesting.

  24. Same reason why all my corporate accounts use my biz jet service – flexibility, guarantee, luxury and speed… Good luck using commercial airlines when you have back to back meetings in three continents within 48 hours.

  25. [email protected],
    If this gentleman, was my CEO, I would seriously re-consider my position as CFO,
    in European terms, this would have lead to some serious crisis, we are seeing one in Sweden at the moment.
    There must be tons of boards looking straight in the mirror and say, I “*ucked up”.

  26. I think it may have to do with the stress we encounter at the airport, even on the premium lines, the waiting in line, the carrying of luggage, security lines, check in lines, boarding lines, even a line, to get on line, like at the AA term at LAX !!!! (IM NOT MAKING THIS UP) there’s a line to get on line to the the escalator up to then get on line for security !!! Private jet travel is much more civi and relaxing. Doctor ordered private jets.

  27. Apart from the reasons mentioned by other posters, I would think that it’s far easier and quicker to divert a private jet, if there is a medical issue, than a United flight full of passengers.

    While I would agree the article title of this post was clickbaity, I didn’t think the article was terrible or vindictive as a lot of comments here suggest. Surprised people commenting on this article (commenters usually are regular readers) aren’t aware of Ben’s ban from United, for pushing too hard on hacks (I only read this blog intermittently and I’m aware of it). It’s true the quality of this blog has decreased since Lucky did his Rolling Stones interview, but this article is hardly the worst example – it’s mostly unremarkable.

    Not sure why it’s got all these negative comments.

  28. Glad to read from many of the comments that I’m not the only one who thinks the quality of this site has really deteriorated. Perhaps one day the realization will hit that brand and quality dilution is not good for business.

  29. @emercycrite I would add that the quality of Gary Leff’s blog has also seriously deteriorated and more and more instead of being about frequent flyer/hotel points and offers, it has evolved into a forum for Gary’s political views, which reflect his affiliation with the Mercatus Institute (heavily funded by the Koch Brothers to promulgate their libertarian economic biases).

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *