United Airlines names Kirby’s successor as president

United Airlines (NASDAQ: UAL) has named Brett Hart as president, effective May 20.

Hart, who joined United in 2010, is the airline’s executive vice president and chief administration officer.

The promotion is part of the airline’s leadership succession plan announced in early December in which current CEO Oscar Munoz will become executive chairman and Scott Kirby, the current president, will move up to lead the company.

Munoz complemented Hart for his “strong track record” at United over the past decade and for helping the airline “navigate complex challenges across all areas of our business.”

Starting in October 2015, Hart served six months as the airline’s interim CEO, while Munoz recovered from a heart transplant.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic’s negative financial and operational impact on the Chicago-based airline, Hart, like Munoz and Kirby, will temporarily forgo his salary as president. The airline has also decided not to fill the role of chief administrative officer. Instead, Hart will continue to oversee the company’s government affairs, corporate communications, and legal and community engagement teams, and expand to cover human resources and labor relations.

Prior to joining United, Hart was executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary at Sara Lee Corp. He also previously served as a partner at Chicago law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal and, prior to that, was a special assistant to the general counsel at the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington.

United Airlines has been operating on a shoestring for the past two months as it slashes expenditures to cope with a massive loss in revenue as the coronavirus caused people to stop  booking flights and seek refunds. The airline is receiving about $5 billion in direct emergency grants from the U.S. government to preserve existing jobs and benefits, about 30% of which is in the form of low-interest loans that will have to be repaid. United officials say they will also apply for more money through a separate loan program and have raised billions of dollars through a recent stock offering, sale-leaseback of aircraft and borrowing from banks.

United came under fire over the weekend for not practicing social distancing after a tweet of a nearly full flight of passengers after United indicated it is keeping middle seats empty to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It clarified its position, saying it is limiting advance seat selection but can’t guarantee that customers will be next to an unoccupied seat. 

Airline executives are implementing a host of hygiene protocols to try to reassure customers that flying is safe.

FreightWaves Air Cargo Editor Eric Kulisch contributed to this article.