These days when an airline displeases a customer and said customer goes on social media to complain, the airline will bend over backwards not to engage or enrage. After United's horrific response to the David Dao incident and Delta’s booting of a California family off a flight when one of their party didn't show up, the airline social media modus operandi has been, "Apologize, pay, and make this go away."
Not so with Sunday's incident involving Delta (again) and conservative pundit Ann Coulter. Coulter had reserved her seat, but was moved to another seat by the window instead of the aisle. Coulter reacted with fury, trashing Delta on Twitter in words and images.
Airlines reassign seats for a multitude of reasons, and they state clearly in contracts of carriage that their only obligation is to fly you between the cities on your ticket. Flight times are not guaranteed, nor are aircraft types, nor is your seat assignment. They usually offer an explanation for reassigning seats (such as a mobility-impaired passenger needing an aisle seat or parents needing to sit next to toddlers), but not always.
Coulter was on a relatively short three-hour flight, and according to Delta, she was moved from an aisle seat in row 15 (an emergency exit row) to a window seat in the same row. So I have to ask, what's the big difference? Those rows have plenty of space so you can get up to use the bathroom without disturbing your seatmates. And frankly, I hate aisle seats. I'm always getting bumped by passengers walking in the aisles.
Coulter tweeted, "It cost me $10,000 of my time to pre-select the seat I wanted, investigate type of plane & go back periodically to review seat options.” If she has that much money to waste, why didn't she just buy a first-class seat? I couldn't help thinking that perhaps she was just in a bad mood because she wasn't in first class where a "celebrity" of her fame probably believes she belongs.
Doesn't she have better things to do? Or does she need the publicity so desperately that she wouldn't just accept the full refund of her $30 seat fee that Delta provided? So when Coulter tweeted insulting remarks about Delta employees and the woman who landed in her seat, and posted pictures of passengers on her flight, it was too much for Delta. "Your insults about our other customers and employees are unacceptable and unnecessary,” the airline said in a statement.
It continued: “We are sorry that the customer did not receive the seat she reserved and paid for. More importantly, we are disappointed that the customer has chosen to publicly attack our employees and other customers by posting derogatory and slanderous comments and photos in social media. Her actions are unnecessary and unacceptable.”
A few years ago, I held a boarding pass in seat 3A on an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to New York, but was told at the check-in counter that I could not be accommodated. I asked why not and was told that an explanation would not be forthcoming (the agent's silence probably indicated that an air marshal needed my first-class seat at the last minute). However, I was polite and even though American had me on the next flight out exactly 59 minutes later (negating the need to compensate me for the involuntary bump), an employee found me in the lounge and handed me a $300 voucher, thanking me for being so "understanding."
Coulter would have done a lot better than just getting her $30 seat fee back had she been a bit more cooperative. I was on an American Airlines flight where the extra legroom seat was broken and didn't recline and they gave me a $200 voucher when I politely complained on Twitter. Honesty and kindness can go a long way.
If I were Coulter, I'd just let this go. Besides flight times and seat assignments, there's one other thing airlines won't guarantee: that they'll fly you at all. Each airline has a blacklist and it's entirely up to them who is on it.
George Hobica is a travel expert and creator and president of airfarewatchdog.com.
A modified version of this article appears on LinkedIn Pulse.