The Airlines Confidential podcast hosted by Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza is co-hosted with travel industry veteran Chris Chiames. The two worked together many years ago at US Airways.
Talking about what happens to frequent flyer miles when a customer is banned from an airline (the customer loses their miles), Chiames tells a story about banning a customer when he was a Senior Vice President at US Airways in 2003,
I recall, and Ben I think you were still at US Airways when we banned – I’m not going to use his name – a very high profile customer who actually promoted himself as being a customer service expert and was on the lecture circuit.
In the process of which flying out of Charlotte weekly just humiliated and terrorized airport staff, the club staff, the on board staff, and we finally had enough and halfway through a trip we Fedex’d him a package and said “Mr. X, I don’t think we can please you so please find another airline.” We cancelled his returned flight and zeroed out his Chairmans Preferred frequent flyer balance.
He was off the airline for about a year, until we reached an agreement where he promised to behave.
Because I’ve been around miles and points, and because my recollection rarely fails, I immediately realized who he was talking about. The customer Chiames discussed was Jeffrey Gitomer.
In 2003 the banning was controversial because Gitomer had a minor media voice and claimed he was banned for being too vocal a critic of the airline.
It was said at the time was that he was the first customer ever to be banned by US Airways, and it’s claimed on Wikipedia that he was the only customer banned by US Airways, although I do not think that is correct.
Chiames wrote at the time in a letter to the Washington Business Journal, in response to a column by Gitomer there attacking the airline, that this customer had submitted more than 30 formal complaints to the airline centered around meal portions, the topic of the airline CEO’s column in the inflight magazine, and the high cost of frequent flyer award redemptions (in 2003!).
He had delayed bags, to be sure, but they considered most of his complaints to be frivolous. The airline “assigned [its] vice president of customer service to be his personal liaison” and Gitomer asked that VP for a consulting job. Chiames said, though, that it was his “verbal abuse of our employees.. [which] have left employees in tears” that led to the banning.
Gitomer, for his part, “described himself as a demanding, but not abusive, customer. He remembered only one time that he made an employee cry, several years ago.” Gitomer felt the ban was unfair because he’s based in Charlotte, and back then US Airways was more dominant at the airport even than American Airlines is today. The next year Gitomer – and his miles – were restored.