What is United Getting With New CEO Scott Kirby?

It’s no coincidence that since 2016, when Scott Kirby was more or less forced out at American Airlines and became president of United Airlines, the two carriers have taken divergent routes.

Since Sept. 1, 2016, United shares have gained 73%. Delta shares have gained 51%. American shares have lost 24%, according to Forbes.

Working under United CEO Oscar Munoz – whom many have described as the carrier’s best CEO in a generation – Kirby helped turn United around (save for those pesky customer service incidents).

Now Kirby gets his turn to run the whole thing.

Munoz and United announced the CEO was retiring. He will become Executive Chairman while Kirby assumes the CEO role. So what is United getting with its new man?

Or maybe the better question is, what is the customer getting?

Kirby’s reputation in the industry is impeccable but he will have big shoes to fill. Munoz was highly regarded for bringing United out of the depths of a murky bribery scandal several years ago that resulted in the ouster of then-CEO Jeff Smisek and the indictment of David Samson, then the head of the Port Authority of New York.

Munoz also handled the incident involving Dr. David Dao – who was physically removed from a flight after being involuntarily bumped – fairly well following some early public relations missteps.

Heck, Munoz even survived a heart attack in the midst of his tenure only to come back and make United even stronger.

Kirby, who will take over in May of 2020, is a similar Wall Street darling and should have no issues assuming the mantle of the Chicago-based carrier. The only knock on Kirby, if you could call it that, is his penchant for leaning more toward the revenue side of the company than the customer experience side.

Kirby is more of a strategist. For instance, while he was one of the early adopters of instituting Basic Economy as a new seat category, Kirby and United still don’t allow passengers to carry both a personal item and a carry-on onboard while holding a Basic Economy ticket.

Adding to the company’s bottom line is important, of course, but there is no bottom line without customers and no customers without exceptional customer service. Perhaps with United more financially stable now he can work on some of those things.

But for immediacy’s sake, United did what it wanted to do. It thrived and survived under Munoz, and now expects Kirby to take it to another level.

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