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Ann Coulter learns airline seats aren’t promised, even if you paid extra

Ann Coulter’s recent Twitter attack on Delta Airlines raises new questions about what passengers are entitled to when flying.

On July 15, the conservative political analyst sent several tweets bashing Delta (DAL) after her flight from LaGuardia airport in New York to West Palm Beach, Fla. landed. According to Coulter, she had pre-selected seat 15D, which was on an aisle and had extra legroom. She paid $30 for this seat selection. When it came time to board the plane, however, Delta reassigned her to 15A, a window seat in the same row.

Coulter quickly took to twitter to voice her disapproval, bashing airline employees and posting a photo of the woman who was given her seat.

Delta shot back, issuing a statement about the event and admitting that there was some confusion with seating assignments at boarding. According to the airline, all passengers were asked to move to the seats noted on their tickets, and customers complied without incident.  It appears that Delta didn’t know Coulter was upset until she started tweeting.

“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,” the airline said in a statement.

In response, Delta also refunded the $30 Coulter spent on the preferred seat. Coulter was unimpressed, tweeting, “$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.”

Know your rights

What happened to Coulter is common for travelers, with airlines consistently enforcing rules that put customers last.

When you purchase a ticket, you’re also agreeing to the airline’s contract of carriage, which outlines the rights and liabilities of the airline. According to Delta’s contract of carriage, purchasing a ticket “shall entitle the passenger to transportation only between points of origin and destination and via the routing designated thereon.” In other words, you’re promised a seat on the plane, nothing more.

Airlines don’t guarantee seating, even if you paid extra. According to Christopher Elliott, an airline consumer advocate, this means major carriers can pretty much do what they want.  

“The airline contract of carriage doesn’t have any provision that you’ll get a specific seat,” Elliott told Yahoo Finance. “Passengers get moved around all the time, especially when there’s an equipment change, which is airline-speak for changing planes.”

Delta and other airlines also reserve the right to deny boarding to customers with confirmed reservations if the flight is overbooked, a fact that landed United in hot water back in April when it forcefully removed a passenger from his seat. Airlines can also deny boarding if a passenger is intoxicated, fails to listen to flight attendants or is barefoot.

For Coulter, the $30 refund felt like an extra slap in the face. In reality, Delta offered more than it had to.

“Passengers have no real recourse. A canned apology is usually the best they can hope for,” said Elliott.

Brittany is a reporter at Yahoo Finance.

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