Call me an extra-sleuth here, but I figured something out.
Ann Coulter’s twitter shows this picture:
Those overhead bins are only found on the retrofitted A319s and A320s. Based on the presence of IFE, that means the aircraft in question Ms. Coulter was on was a retrofitted A319.
When you look at the picture in the very first post, it is clear that that is an exit-row seat (not a Comfort+ seat). The article mentions she was sitting in the aisle seat, which based on the seat map for the retrofitted A319 (aka the 31J configuration), it is clear that she originally reserved a “preferred” seat in either 15C or 15D. Looking at the row numbers above the overhead bins in the picture I mentioned in the beginning of this post, it is clear that Ms. Coulter is now seated in 15A, with the photo taken looking at 15B and 15C.
Ms. Coulter did not book a Comfort+ seat, but rather an exit row seat. Due to operational difficulties (such as special needs, etc.), it is common for airlines to rebook passengers requiring assistance into the exit row aisle seats to ensure they can properly move in and out of their seats during boarding. This is the same reason why 2 bulkhead seats in economy are normally blocked off until 24hrs before departure.
If one looks at post #1, the picture posted shows the lady in Ms. Coulter’s original seat holding a piece of paper with a Delta logo at the top and a barcode at the bottom. This is only given to passengers either when their seat assignment differs from their own (due to upgrade, op. necessity, etc.) or when a standby passenger is given a seat during the boarding process.
This leaves the lady in 15D with 2 options: either she was a non-rev passenger who grabbed that seat last-minute, or she had her seat changed at the last minute. Within 24hrs, it is extremely unlikely that someone with special needs requests a specific seat (they typically do so during or just after booking). If that was the case, then it is Ms. Coulter’s lack of judgment for a person who truly needed the seat. Alternatively, Ms. 15D swapped seats at the last minute and got the paper slip to reflect her new seat assignment. This is also unlikely, seeing as seat changes in the last few hours before departure (where the boarding pass seat differs from the actual seat) are unlikely, yet still possible. This leaves the possibility that Ms. 15D is a non-rev passenger, who was assigned the seat at the gate and received the slip to denote her seat assignment. Ms. 15D’s ticket has the space where the term “NRSA” would be printed blocked by her arm, so it is impossible to deduce whether she was a non-rev or simply got a seat that differed from her previous seat at booking.
So how does this happen? The most likely explanation I can think of is a passenger requesting the seat, prompting Delta to change the seat of Ms. Coulter, then having said passenger not need the seat anymore due to some reason. This would render the seat empty and able for anyone to either be cleared into that seat or change into that seat. Otherwise, Delta has no right to change the seat of Ms. Coulter. I do know from experience though that people sitting in prime seats for passengers who need them (ie. bulkhead seats, exit row seats, and aisle seats) that random seat changes do occur prior to departure. In that case, it was Ms. Coulter’s responsibility to check whether or not her seat assignment would be honoured. In a sense however, it is also Delta’s responsibility to notify the passenger when their seat assignment is changed before boarding (I lost my prime window-bulkhead Comfort+ seat and sucked it up in a middle seat afterwards due to a lack of notification).
In any case, the reason for the change in seats must be specified. Delta has a tendency not to notify passengers whom they “value” when their seats are changed, and as a result has caused some discomfort within many people, including Ann Coulter. Flight attendants may not be ACS agents, and may not understand exactly what has happened, but should at least have a rudimentary understanding as to why seats are changed. Gate agents and check-in agents should notify passengers if their seat assignment has been changed then, and updates before check-in should be in place to notify passengers as well. Delta’s act of not notifying Ms. Coulter is sadly commonplace, and must be corrected. At the same time, so should Ms. Coulter’s behaviour towards her fellow passengers.