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United's Munoz Goes From Savior to Man on Hot Seat Real Fast

  • Former Coca-Cola executive throws fuel on social-media fire
  • CEO turned around airline only to spark global customer anger
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United Struggles to Contain Damage Over Passenger Removal

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For most of his 19-month tenure, United Continental Holdings Inc. Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz has cleaned up messes left behind by others. Now he’s mopping up a PR disaster that’s unfolded on his watch.

After United ordered a passenger forcibly removed from a plane in Chicago shortly before departure to make room for a United employee, Munoz’s initial response made the company a punch line on social media. He said United had to “re-accommodate’’ the man, who was bloodied in the encounter with security officials. In a subsequent letter to employees, the CEO called the customer “disruptive’’ and “belligerent’’ when he wouldn’t relinquish his seat.