United CEO Oscar Munoz was recently named 'Communicator of the Year' by PR Week

Oscar Munoz, chief executive officer of United Continental Holdings
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A little less than a month before United's passenger removal scandal, CEO Oscar Munoz was honored for being PR Week's "Communicator of the Year."


The executive, who was named president and CEO in September 2015, is under scrutiny after the defended the forced removal of a passenger from an overbooked flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky.

In a statement that some found flippant, Munoz apologized for having to "re-accomodate" passengers. Another letter he wrote to United employees seemed to blame the passenger, whom he called "disruptive and belligerent." He also said the violent removal was part of "established procedure," despite the passenger appearing to be bloodied and disoriented after the incident.

Passengers were notified that four people needed to disembark in order to make room for four United employees because the airlines oversold Sunday's flight. After a couple rounds of incentives that went unclaimed, United resorted to asking passengers to leave the plane. One man refused, which led to airport officials being called and him being dragged off the plane. Video of the confrontation went viral on social media.

Video shows man being forcibly removed from United Airlines flight
Video shows man being forcibly removed from United Airlines flight

Though he acknowledged lessons to be learned, Munoz wrote in his letter to employees that "I emphatically stand behind all of you."

The incident happened on a United Express flight operated by Republic Airways.

United did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for further comment.