After a period in America when we were faced with incident after incident of airline passengers becoming cause célèbre because of questionable decisions by airline personnel, you would think the airlines would adjust how they treat the people who pay the freight. Instead Delta Airlines decided to pick a fight with one the most well-known social/political commentators in the country. That outcome could not end well.
Ann Coulter booked a flight from New York LaGuardia to West Palm Beach, Florida, on Saturday, July 15th. Coulter had booked a seat in what Delta refers to as their Comfort+ seating. As a constant traveler, Ms. Coulter has become savvy about planes and seating configurations like many people (my wife included). Comfort+ is described by Delta as “providing up to four inches of additional leg space, dedicated overhead bin space and priority boarding” and attracts many experienced travelers.
Coulter had reserved a window seat, but checked the day before the flight and found the aisle seat opened so she made a quick change to that seat to accommodate her six-foot height with extra legroom. Coulter printed her boarding pass for seat 15D and put the flight to rest until she arrived at the airport the next day. She arrived 90 minutes prior to the flight, but had no idea what she was in for until she walked up to board the plane.
Delta described what happened at that point in the press release: “At the time of boarding, Delta inadvertently moved Coulter to 15A, a window seat, when working to accommodate several passengers with seating requests.” What actually happened was different and obviously not inadvertent. As Coulter stated, “As I was boarding, the gate agent snatched my ticket out of my hand, and handed me a little slip with a new seat number. I asked why and she said ‘emergency’. I was upset, but I was not going to hold up 200 people behind me waiting to board, so I boarded the plane and sat in my booked seat (15D) anyway – it was empty.”
As the plane was nearly filled, Coulter was approached by a flight attendant that asked for her boarding pass. Coulter calmly explained to her what had occurred and that she was in her actual seat. The attendant told her she had to move to 15A which had less legroom and was not the one she had booked. Some other person now had her seat and no reason or explanation was given.
Coulter protested in the manner with which she is most familiar. She had never received an explanation for this abrupt behavior by airline personnel. Those who know Ms. Coulter know she is not afraid to speak her mind and her mind was irate with this unexplained and confrontational behavior from airline personnel. Coulter took to Twitter and ripped Delta and their personnel up one side and down another.
It was not until Sunday morning when Delta corporate employees contacted Coulter to get the details of what happened. There really was not much response from Delta until 9 P.M. Sunday night when they did a press release. Delta stated a half-hearted apology or, as is it is referred to as a ‘non-apology’ apology, and then immediately attacked Coulter stating “More importantly” followed by a fusillade against Coulter.
This was way after a Twitter war had broken out with Coulter going after Delta to her estimated 1.6 million followers against the liberal media having a field day making inaccurate statements about what happened or by just attacking Coulter. The Anti-Coulter press continued making false assertions the next morning.
But this is about Delta and their behavior. As I have written before, there is a three-step process to fixing problems with customers. First, you say “I’m sorry.” No one ever said that to Coulter until late the next day and then followed it with an attack on her. Second, say “It is our fault.” Delta never actually took responsibility. Third, you say “We are going to fix this.” Delta’s fix was to return a $30 fee she had paid for the extra legroom seat.
Take Ann Coulter out of this equation and insert Chelsea Clinton. Delta still handled this terribly. There was no reason for changing the assigned seat and pulling the printed boarding pass. This could have been defused an hour before the flight if they would have confronted the problem, nicely pleaded with Coulter to change seats and maybe offered her some enticement.
If the woman who ended up with the seat was connected to the man in the seat next to her -- it was still Coulter’s choice to make the change. As Coulter’s tweeted photo of the passenger in her seat demonstrate, Coulter was not moved to a less-legroom, window seat to accommodate a professional basketball player, an air marshal or an elderly person. She chose one seat and was given another, more cramped, seat. She had followed the rules and been abused by Delta.
Forget who was the passenger here. If it were your average customer, everyone would be chastising Delta. Some questionable tweets by Coulter do not exonerate Delta. The perpetrator does not become the victim and it does not give Delta the right to attack Coulter. Delta -- fix it.