Oscar Munoz United Airlines
Oscar Munoz. Source: The LinkedIn profile of Oscar Munoz.

Did Oscar Munoz Return to Work Because of Money So Soon After His Heart Transplant?

scar Munoz has apparently experienced a miraculous recovery from a heart transplant procedure — which he underwent slightly greater than two months ago as a result of suffering from a heart attack on Thursday, October 15, 2015 — and is scheduled to return to resuming all of his duties and responsibilities in a full-time capacity effective as of tomorrow, Monday, March 14, 2016.

Although many people sent him well wishes and applaud his return to United Airlines as its president and chief executive officer, there are some people who question his motives and are skeptical about whether or not he was really ready to return to such a demanding job.

Did Oscar Munoz Return to Work Because of Money So Soon After His Heart Transplant?

Believing that “If you had to undergo a heart transplant, chances are you’d be in no hurry to get back to work — if a return was even possible”, David Lazarus wrote in this article for the Los Angeles Times that “a regulatory filing submitted by the company the day after Munoz’s surgery made clear that the airline may not be as magnanimous as all that. It said Munoz would be behind his desk — or else.”

The terms of the long-term incentive award in the contract include the following statement

Also beginning in 2016, the Company will provide to Mr. Munoz an annual long-term incentive award with a grant date value of at least $10,500,000, to be delivered through vehicles and designs that are generally consistent with those awarded to the Company’s other senior executive officers in each year, provided that Mr. Munoz shall not be eligible to receive such a grant for calendar 2016 until such date as he has been in continuous active service as President and Chief Executive Officer for a period of six months.

…which may mean that if he is recuperating instead of tending to his responsibilities as the leader of United Airlines full time, he stands to lose millions of dollars — and perhaps his job as well — but even if that were the case, it seems as though he might still be able to keep the $5,200,000.00 he received as compensation simply for signing on with United Airlines. He should have already been paid that money 30 days after his employment with United Airlines as its president and chief executive officer began; but it is subject to repayment, according to the terms of the employment contract.

If Munoz misses at least 180 days of work because he is “physically incapable of performing the material duties as president and chief executive officer”, then he can lose is base salary of $1.25 million — plus a chance at an annual performance bonus of no less than 200 percent of his salary, which would amount to a minimum of $3.75 million…

…and if he did resign — citing disability as the reason — he will forgo “any annual, long-term or other incentive award” which required longer service; and only be compensated for the relatively brief time he was on the job as president and chief executive officer of United Airlines.

Whose Responsibility is Questionable?

Lazarus states in the aforementioned article he wrote that “Munoz’s position raises interesting questions about a company’s moral responsibility toward employees at a time of corporate crisis — not to mention the vast gap that exists between the experiences of CEOs and ordinary workers.”

Was United Airlines under such intense pressure to show it had a strong leader at the helm — and if so, does the health of Munoz not factor into the equation regardless?

What about Munoz? If he knows he is not yet healthy enough to return as the president and chief executive officer of United Airlines full time, does he at least share in the irresponsibility pertaining to his health — as well as the interests of stakeholders of the airline — by possibly not being physically capable of doing his best at the demanding and stressful job for which he was hired?

“I spoke with half a dozen cardiologists”, Lazarus wrote. “The consensus was that two months is pretty darn speedy, but it’s not unheard of.”

Whether I was a stakeholder of United Airlines — which I am not, other than simply as a customer — or a close relative or friend of Munoz, I would not be quite comfortable with that consensus.

Are the priorities of both Oscar Munoz and United Airlines straight and in order?

Leadership Woes — and Saving Face?

Brett J. Hart was appointed as interim chief executive officer by the board of directors of United Airlines while Munoz — who shared an update on his health in November of 2015 — was on medical leave.

Munoz replaced Jeff Smisek on Tuesday, September 8, 2015 as the chief executive officer of United Airlines. The supposed firing of Jeff Smisek from his responsibilities at United Continental is reportedly related to ongoing federal and internal investigations associated with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, whose former chairman is suspected to have allegedly used his prominent position to demand favorable treatment or personal benefit from United Airlines — such as for a weekly direct flight between Newark and Columbia in South Carolina near the vacation home of David Samson, who resigned from his position as chairman back in March of 2014. That flight reportedly lost money for the airline.

Exactly one month and one week later, Munoz suffered his heart attack.

Only Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines — both ultra-low-cost carriers — earned worse scores than United Airlines in terms of being a major airline with the lowest rank in customer satisfaction, according to this survey conducted by J.D. Power and Associates last year.

Rebel stakeholders of United Airlines reportedly want to shake up the board of directors and appoint Gordon Bethune — who is the former chief executive officer of Continental Airlines, which has since merged with United Airlines — as the chairman of the board to oversee the performance of Oscar Munoz. Three board members were immediately appointed to the board — and I intend to discuss in a future article about one of those new board members in particular.


It remains to be seen as to whether or not Oscar Munoz is really up to the task of performing his responsibilities at a position in which he himself has not had a real chance to which he was able to be acclimated. It is not like he had been at his job for several years and modeled the way of United Airlines under his leadership. One month was hardly any time at all to become established and get anything of substance accomplished.

Depending on the state of my health — which, thankfully, is excellent — and if I was not required to pay it back, I think I might have simply taken the $5,200,000.00 and ran, as I could easily live the rest of my life on that tidy little sum of money.

Aw, who am I kidding?!? I would probably feel a tinge of guilt about doing that, as I believe in putting in a hard day’s work for a good day’s pay…

…but that does lead to this question: if you were in a similar position as Oscar Munoz with a serious health issue, would you return to work in order to qualify for those millions of dollars in compensation and benefits; or would you forego it, citing that your health was far more important?

Oscar Munoz. Source: The LinkedIn profile of Oscar Munoz.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!