You'd think a struggling airline would do everything possible to hold onto one of its most frequent fliers.
But US Airways drew the line this month at Jeffrey Gitomer of Charlotte, N.C., an author and consultant to companies on selling and customer service. The airline banned him - the first time it ever "fired" a customer - and took away his frequent flier miles.
Exactly why US Airways took such drastic action is a hot topic of debate on bulletin boards of air travel Web sites such as FlyerTalk (www.flyertalk.com)
US Airways informed Gitomer of its decision the week after he raked the airline in his column published by American City Business Journals. Gitomer said the airline has lousy food, unfriendly employees and poor service.
US Airways shot back in a letter to the newspaper, calling Gitomer a chronic complainer whose outbursts have brought employees to tears. He recently threatened to criticize US Airways in public forums until a senior executive returned his calls and took action on his complaints, wrote Chris Chiames, senior vice president of corporate affairs.
In an interview, Gitomer described himself as a demanding, but not abusive, customer. He remembered only one time that he made an employee cry, several years ago.
Because US Airways flies 86 percent of departures from Charlotte, Gitomer said, the travel ban is complicating his business trips and making him miss family events. "From my perspective," he said, "it was a very disappointing reaction and one not deserved."
As much as Gitomer complained about US Airways, Chiames said, he kept flying the airline. "At the end of the day, we're not going to let someone be abusive to our employees," the airline executive said.