We live in an age air-travel uprisings – in the year of the dead baggage rabbit and the dragging of Dr. Dao. Across the United States and much of the world, this is a time of terminal brawls and pre-takeoff walkouts, as frustrated passengers fight back against the airlines with cellphone cameras and viral outrage.
But what to make of Ann Coulter’s arrival to the battle?
Shortly after landing in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Saturday, she launched a full scale Twitter assault against Delta Air Lines – which had apparently bumped her from an aisle seat to a window seat in the same row.
It wasn’t the most obvious moral outrage. There were no lost teeth or passengers dragged by the wrists down the aisle. In fact, the whole dispute concerned a $30 seat upgrade, according to Delta, which has promised to refund Coulter for her inconvenience.
That hasn’t stopped her war. Digressing from her usual commentary on liberals and immigrants, Coulter kept tweeting about the incident all weekend, eventually comparing Delta to dictators and claiming the booking process cost $10,000 of her time.
Delta, meanwhile, has gone far beyond bland statements of contrition. It’s hitting back at Coulter and even claiming the moral high ground – accusing the polemicist of slandering its passengers and transgressing the “mutual civility” that we should all expect on board an airplane, even in this age.
Coulter’s tweet: “So glad I took time investigate the aircraft & PRE-BOOK a specific seat on @Delta, so some woman could waltz at the last min & take my seat.”
Some time after her flight from New York landed Friday, Coulter began to publicly expose the indignities she had documented on board.
“Why are you taking me out of the extra room seat I specifically booked, Delta?” she wrote beneath a photo of a flight attendant staring at her with some evident concern.
Coulter had, she wrote, been “kicked out of a CAREFULLY PRE-BOOKED seat to a less desirable seat” before takeoff. A flight attendant had “snatch[ed] my ticket out of my hand,” explaining only that an “emergency” necessitated the change, she said.
She never said exactly which less desirable seat she was moved to. But as Coulter tweeted into Sunday night, Delta released an account of events from flight 2582 that sounded significantly less dire.
Coulter had originally booked a window seat in an exit row, an airline spokesman wrote: 15F – a comfy seat with extra leg room.
Less than 24 hours before takeoff, according to the airline, Coulter switched her selection to 15D – an aisle seat in the same row.
“At the time of boarding,” the statement continues, “Delta inadvertently moved Coulter to 15A, a window seat, when working to accommodate several passengers with seating requests.”
So, Coulter went back to a window seat – still in the same row; just the opposite side of the plane. Her new seat had exactly the same amount of legroom, an airline spokesman told The Post.
While acknowledging “some confusion” during boarding, Delta contends that all passengers moved seats upon request, and “there were problems or concerns escalated” until the flight landed and Coulter started tweeting.
“The airline’s social media and customer care teams made several attempts to connect with her to apologize for the seat mix-up,” reads Delta’s statement, and the airline’s Twitter history shows it reached out within an hour of her first complaint.
“However,” the statement continues, “they did not hear back from Coulter until Sunday evening.”
Coulter, who did not reply to questions from The Washington Post, has not disputed Delta’s account of her seating arrangements.
But she has continued to complain that she was “ordered” to move, retweeted a fan who called her treatment “abuse,” and compared the flight crew to Nurse Ratchet and Stasi police.
Delta says Coulter’s seat upgrade cost a mere $30, which the airline has promised to refund.
Coulter calculates things differently. Moving three seats down represented $10,000 in sunk time, she contends.
Her tweet: “$30! 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”
We don’t know how long Coulter spent to “investigate” the seating layout on her plane. Nor can we pretend to know the objective value of Ann Coulter.
But there’s little doubt that she’s made a lucrative career in the book and cable news worlds – if one largely built around outrage.
Outraged by Bill Clinton.By the godless “Church of Liberalism.” Lately by immigrants, again and again and again.
And now by Delta.
While Coulter has yet to write a book about her flight, she had tweeted about it nearly 50 times by Sunday morning.
Some fans already consider her an advocate for mistreated passengers, and Coulter appears to have embraced that portrayal – threatening to interrogate Delta’s CEO on-air.
A picture of politeness
Delta’s initial replies to Coulter were contrite. “I understand how this must be extremely frustrating, Ann. I’d like to extend my sincere apology,” a representative wrote on Twitter Friday evening.
But lately, not so much; “@AnnCoulter Additionally, your insults about our other customers and employees are unacceptable and unnecessary.”
“What started out as complaints eventually turned into a public attack on the airline’s employees and customers,” a Delta spokesman wrote – after Coulter shared a photo of the “dachshund-legged woman” who took her aisle seat, and complained that “immigrants take American jobs (and seats on Delta.)”
So the airline has apologized and promised to refund Coulter $30 – even as it condemns her “derogatory and slanderous comments.”
“Her actions are unnecessary and unacceptable,” the airline wrote Sunday. “Delta expects mutual civility throughout the entire travel experience.”
Of course, Coulter hasn’t let them get the last word.
She defended her Twitter rant as “the picture of politeness” – and restyled her seating complaint as a struggle against fascism.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Avi Selk