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United under pressure to clarify who's in charge

The abrupt hospitalization of United Continental (UAL) CEO Oscar Munoz couldn't come at a worse time for the embattled carrier.

On the job little more than a month, Munoz, 56, reportedly had a heart attack late last week, although the company has only confirmed that the former chief operating officer of railroad giant CSX (CSX) executive had been hospitalized.

In a statement Monday, United, the world's second-largest airline, said it expects to release more information later in the day or on Tuesday as it completes "the corporate governance process necessitated by the hospitalization of (Munoz)." United did not return a call for further comment.

Bloomberg News reported that United's board members were at an impasse about whether to hire an interim CEO or beginning looking for a new one.

Having its CEO out of commission is only the latest hurdle for the carrier. Munoz took the helm as Jeff Smisek stepped down from the job amid a federal investigation into the airline's handling of a case involving the former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

United, along with other major U.S. carriers, is also being investigated for possible collusion in keeping airfares high, the U.S. Department of Justice said this summer.

The carrier's board set a good example in removing Smisek, but is currently "blurring their governance with zero clarity over who is in charge while the CEO is incapacitated," said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean for Leadership Studies at the Yale School of Management, in an email.

United may shed further light on the situation when it releases quarterly results on Thursday.

"They are going to need to report on other material developments and those other material developments include what has happened to Mr. Munoz and even more importantly what does the board intend to do about it," said John Coffee, a professor at Columbia Law School and an expert on securities law.

The airline also has a duty to disclose all relevant material information to shareholders in a timely manner under the rules of the New York Stock Exchange, where it is listed, according to James Cox, a professor at Duke University School of Law.

That said, companies have wide discretion as to the timing and level of detail in these disclosures, added Cox.

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