United’s CEO Gives Up His First Class Seat to an Elderly Nervous Flyer

When Oscar Munoz came on as United Airlines CEO as a rushed replacement for disgraced former company head Jeff Smisek he made it a priority to spend time and listen to employees.

Despite being sidelined early on with health problems Munoz traveled around the system and did a lot for the airline’s morale. He announced several new customer-friendly changes early on, many of which had been worked on during the Smisek era, including plans for Polaris business class seats, lounges, and soft product improvements like arguably the world’s best business class bedding.

It even seemed like he was turning around the airline, at least until bringing on American Airlines President Scott Kirby as United’s President. To be sure he had significant missteps like defending the dragging and beating of David Dao (an incident which cost him the Chairmanship of the airline.) However, aside from stealing sand from public beaches, he seems like a genuinely good guy. At least that’s been my impression the times that I’ve met him.

Munoz used to claim that he “always seems to get” seat 22A — something I was skeptical of, especially since he claimed to be getting that seat on 50 seat regional jets which don’t have that many rows.

Recently he was seated in first class though and he reportedly gave up his seat to an elderly woman in back who was nervous, not having flown in a long time.

[T]onight I was on a flight w the CEO of United. I was a bit surprised seeing him walk back into the economy section of the plane to take his seat. Seated in front of me on the plane was an elderly lady in her 80’s (maybe even early 90’s). She didn’t appear to be in great health and had a bit of a hard time with her speech. Prior to boarding, I’d seen Oscar (the CEO) make his way out of a crowd of people in order to go over and speak w her. I thought it was nice of him to take time to say hello to her when there was literally a crowd of people trying to speak w him. After we landed, I overheard the elderly lady tell the man she was sitting next to how it’d been a very long time since she’d flown, that she had been very nervous, and how she couldn’t believe the kindness of Oscar, giving up his seat in first class just for her.

The passenger sharing the story, who describes herself as a loyal Delta customer and who was seated behind the woman in what was supposed to be Oscar Munoz’s seat, says this may have converted her into a lifelong United customer. And that, by the way, is how you win business — authentically, one customer at a time.