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United’s CEO won a PR award last month





United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz is the subject of much wrath after a public relations flap involving the forcible removal of a passenger from an overbooked flight.

However, Munoz was actually honored last month as PRWeek’s “Communicator of the Year.”

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Munoz won the award “for his efforts over the past year to better engage with employees and customers as he led a dramatic transformation at the airline, all while recovering from a near-fatal heart attack and subsequent heart transplant,” according to a press release from United issued on March 17.

The move seems fairly ironic, as customers nationwide were up in arms Monday after a man who said he was a doctor was violently removed from an overbooked United flight in Chicago on Sunday night. Video that captured the ordeal has since gone viral.

United was slow to offer an apology, and then appeared to apologize for the overbooking, not for the violent removal of the passenger. On Monday, Munoz wrote on the airline’s Twitter account, “This is an upsetting incident for all of us at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.”

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz in October 2015.

Earl Wilson/The New York Times/File

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz in October 2015.

It is the second high-profile embarrassment for the airline in recent weeks, after it refused to let two girls board a flight in late March for wearing leggings. The airlines has defended that decision, saying their leggings violated the company’s dress code policy for “pass travelers,” a benefit of United employees and their dependents.

Now the hashtag #boycottunited is trending on social media, and on Twitter, the outrage is rampant.

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“This is appalling. Sickening to treat people in such a way. Definitely time to boycott #unitedAIRLINES,” Mark Cuban tweeted. He joined a chorus of celebrities and others speaking out against United.

Audra Bridges said passengers were allowed to board the flight but were later told four people would need to give up their seats for United employees who were needed in Louisville on Monday.

When no one volunteered, an airline manager came aboard and said passengers would be randomly selected and asked to leave.

That’s when the trouble began.

In a series of Tweets, passenger Jayse Anspach, a student and crossfit trainer, narrated the scene.

“No one volunteered, so United choose for us. They choose an Asian doctor and his wife.”

“The doctor needed to work at the hospital the next day, so he refused to ‘volunteer.’ United decided to use force on the doctor.”

“A couple [of] airport security men forcibly pulled the doctor out of his chair and into the aisle.”

“10 mins later, the doctor runs back into the plane with a bloody face, clings to a post in the back, chanting, ‘I need to go home’.”

People began leaving the plane after the incident in disgust. The airline eventually cleared the plane. When it finally took off, the four United employees were seated, the doctor was not.

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Christopher Muther of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


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