United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz appeared on CNBC’s Squawk on the Street yesterday and gave his first interview since returning to the airline following heart surgery in January.
And while he was there to discuss first quarter earnings that were lower than those of his peers, he was upbeat and enthusiastic about both his health and the airline’s.
“I tell you I’m very excited about the numbers we reported today. Beyond the financial aspects we had some great customer satisfaction — the best in our recorded history as a combined company.”
Munoz made clear the distinction between his United, and the one he inherited from ousted CEO Jeff Smisek in September during an early exchange with host Jim Cramer, “It’s again about running a great airline for our customers. We have some inherent cost and infrastructure issues that are difficult to deal with — no questions. We’ve lost some customers. We need to rebuild the trust with those customers and get them back. That involves a whole lot of issues: where we fly, how we fly, the service, the product level we provide. But most importantly, I think it require the absolute direction and focus of 85,000 people and my priorities from day one have been to resolve our labor issues and to basically show the love and respect for the professionals that actually run this airline.”
While Munoz tried to keep the messaging focused on customer service and strong teamwork among employees, he did have to deal with questions about activist investors and his delayed path to the Chairman’s role. “The good thing about having this proxy issue behind us is the fact that we can now get to actually work on those issues,” Munoz said. “I think [the board] can do a lot, frankly. We’ve really reconstituted the board with some great experience across technology, innovation; certainly the airline experience that’s important. That combination will be really wonderful as we develop our game plan and strategy.”
Munoz also addressed the opportunities presented by historically low fuel prices, record bookings, and fees that keep airlines’ coffers full. “Well, I’ll tell you,” Munoz said, “I sure hope it’s a new era because we’ve seen the old one and it hasn’t worked.”