United Airlines on Tuesday removed chief executive Jeff Smisek and two other senior executives amid an internal inquiry into the airline’s ties to the former chairman of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.
The U.S. attorney for New Jersey has been investigating whether United, the nation’s third-largest airline, agreed to reinstate a money-losing flight to the airport nearest the weekend home of the Port Authority’s chairman, David Samson, in return for improvements the airline wanted at Newark Liberty International Airport, where it is the biggest carrier.
Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman declined to comment on Tuesday.
The carrier named Oscar Munoz as president and chief executive to replace Smisek, the company’s top executive since it merged with Continental Airlines about five years ago. Munoz had been chief operating officer at CSX Corp.
United’s executive vice president for communications and government affairs and the senior vice president for corporate and government affairs also resigned, the company said.
U.S. prosecutors have been probing the relationship between United and Samson, who quit in March 2014. He has been under investigation for possible conflicts of interest at the agency, and U.S. authorities have sought information about a United flight between Newark, N.J., and Columbia, S.C., near where Samson’s wife has a home. United ended that flight days after Samson left the Port Authority.
“The departures are in connection with the company’s previously disclosed internal investigation related to the federal investigation associated with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey,” United said in a statement.
“The investigations are ongoing and the company continues to cooperate with the government.”
The Record newspaper in New Jersey reported in February that prosecutors were investigating the Newark-to-Columbia flight. The Port Authority runs the Newark airport.
Samson referred to the flights, which left Newark on Thursday evenings and returned Monday morning, as the “chairman’s flight,” The Record reported.