United Air Taps Former Obama Spokesman for Help After PR Flops

(Bloomberg) -- United Continental Holdings Inc. is turning to President Barack Obama’s former White House spokesman as its new chief communications officer, tasked with helping the airline work through the fallout from a series of public relations blunders.

Josh Earnest, 43, will “play a crucial role on our leadership team as we position our brand and this company for success,” United Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz said Thursday in a statement.

The airline job will be Earnest’s first role in business after spending 20 years in politics. He worked for eight years under Obama and was promoted to White House press secretary in 2014. He also worked in Chicago for Obama’s first presidential campaign. Earnest has been a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC since last year.

Chicago-based United has been working to reverse a melange of incidents that brought it bad publicity over the past year or so. The most high-profile of those, when a passenger was dragged from United Express jet in April 2017, sparked international condemnation. Since then, the death of a giant rabbit on a flight from London and that of a bulldog stowed in an overhead bin have stoked criticism of the airline on social media.

“Cutting through the noise of the modern media environment is a challenge, especially in the highly competitive airline industry,” Earnest said in a news release.

At United, Earnest will be reunited with Frank Benenati, a spokesman who also worked for Earnest at the White House. Earnest succeeds Jim Olson, who left the company in January after two years.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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