United Air CEO Says Decision to Drop NRA Discounts Was Personal

(Bloomberg) -- The passionate debate over gun control spilled over into United Continental Holdings Inc.’s annual meeting, when an attendee grilled Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz about why the carrier severed its ties with the National Rifle Association.

Taking such a stand in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, risked alienating millions of potential customers who have firearms or support the right to own them, the person said during the Wednesday session. The move also bucked billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s advice against making heat-of-the moment political stands.

The shooter wasn’t affiliated with the NRA, the questioner said, “But hey, congratulations on your liberal virtue-signaling.”

“Sir, it wasn’t political,” Munoz responded. “It was personal with regard to my family at United.”

For Munoz, the tragedy hit home because one of the 17 people killed in the Florida massacre, Gina Rose Montalto, was the teenage daughter of a United captain. About a hundred pilots and other employees of United, JetBlue Airways Corp., American Airlines Group Inc. and FedEx Corp. attended her funeral, forming an honor guard at the entrance, according to news reports at the time.

“That’s why we made the decision,” Munoz said. “We aren’t here to make political conversation or strike political debate. We’re here to serve customers.”

United and Delta Air Lines Inc. were among a number of companies that ended discounts for NRA members during the fallout from the February mass shooting. Delta faced a political firestorm in its home state of Georgia as lawmakers punished the airline by removing a fiscal measure’s tax break on jet fuel.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.