CHICAGO—United has hired James Olson to lead communications, following the departure of Irene Foxhall last year.

Olson, who joins the company from Starbucks, has been named SVP of communications. Unlike Foxhall, who reported to ousted CEO John Smisek, Olson will report to Michael Bonds, EVP of human resources and labor relations.

"It was clear to us that Jim possesses the leadership, forward-thinking and global perspective to create the state-of-the-art communications capability necessary to help position United for the long runway of opportunity ahead of us," said Bonds. "His combination of airline, consumer brand and digital experience will make Jim an immediate and impactful addition to United's senior leadership team."

Olson had served as VP of global corporate communications at Starbucks since 2011, where he helped develop the company's digital news and employee storytelling platform, as also oversaw public affairs for Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

But he also has plenty of airline experience, after holding the corporate communications VP role at US Airways, where he managed the response to the 2009 Hudson River emergency water landing of Flight 1549. Olson spent most of the first decade of his career in the automotive industry, including seven years as a strategic communications and digital media consultant to Nissan North America.

United has struggled since its merger with Continental five years ago, but new CEO Oscar Munoz has pledged a swift turnaround.