Are the airlines at fault?

23 posts / 0 new
Last post
boilermaker's picture
Joined: 08/21/02
Posts: 1984
Are the airlines at fault?

407-Pound Woman Denied Flights Home, Dies Abroad - Yahoo!

The death of a 407-pound woman after being denied boarding on three flights was "preventable," according to an attorney for the woman's husband, who plans to pursue legal action against three airlines.

Vilma Soltesz, 56, died of kidney failure on Oct. 24 in Hungary, where she and her husband, Janos Soltesz, took an annual vacation to a home they owned in their native country, said Soltesz' attorney, Holly Ostrov-Ronai.

Soltesz, who had health problems, had been trying to get back to the United States, where she could see her doctors, Ostrov-Ronai said.

The couple flew from New York City to Budapest by way of Amsterdam on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Soltesz, who had one leg, got on the flight with the help of an airlift, and used a seatbelt extender when seated, Ostrov-Ronai said, adding that the couple had "no issues at all."

"KLM asked them when they would be flying home so that they could make proper arrangements," Ostrov-Ronai wrote in an email to ABCNews.com.

When the couple went to the airport on Oct. 15 to board a KLM night flight home to New York, they were able to board. However, Ostrov-Ronai said the captain asked Vilma Soltesz to disembark because she could not be secured in her seat due to an issue with a seat back.

"There was simply no legitimate reason in this instance for denying her boarding or forcing her to disembark," Ostrov-Ronai said. "Their failure to make simple accommodations, that had been made prior, led to Vilma's death. This is not best efforts in any regard."

In a statement, KLM said "every effort" was made to help Soltesz.

The couple waited at the airport for five hours while the airline made calls to find an alternative to accommodate Vilma Soltesz.

They were advised to drive to Prague, where they could catch a "bigger plane" operated by Delta Airlines. When they arrived, Ostrov-Ronai said, the couple was told that Delta only had a plastic wheelchair that could not handle Vilma's weight and that there was no sky lift available to get her onto the plane.

Delta spokesman Russel Cason offered the airline's "sincere condolences" for the passing of Vilma Soltesz.

"Despite a determined good-faith effort by Delta in Prague, we were also physically unable to board her on our aircraft on Oct. 16. For this reason there was never an issue with the use of seat belt extenders," he said.

The couple drove back to their home in Hungary and made another effort, this time through Lufthansa, to get back to the United States. When they boarded, they were forced to disembark by the captain, Ostrov-Ronai said, because Vilma was unable to fasten her seatbelt properly.

The airline said it worked with local partners, the fire brigade and technical experts to accommodate Soltesz, but to no avail.

"After several time-consuming attempts it was decided that for the safety of this passenger and the over 140 fellow passengers, Lufthansa had to deny transportation of the passenger," said a statement issued by the airline. "In order to avoid further delays which would have resulted in missed connections and severe inconvenience for other customers on board, this decision was unavoidable."

Two days later, Vilma Soltesz died.

"They passed these people around from airline to airline and treated them with no dignity whatsoever, simply because they didn't want to deal with the situation," Ostrov-Ronai said.

She said Janos Soltesz plans to pursue a lawsuit against the three airlines that denied his wife passage home, where she desperately needed medical treatment.

"Janos is heartbroken," Ostrov-Ronai said. "The only thing that keeps him going day to day is that he wants justice for what was done to Vilma and to try to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else in the future."

GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4111

Nope. According to this article she gained weight during the month while she was there and the same accomodations that they made for the flight over no longer were enough. That is not the airlines fault.

Vilma, who weighed about 425 pounds, had only one leg and used a wheelchair. She traveled with her husband of 33 years to Hungary on Delta and KLM airlines on Sept. 17.

They spent several relaxing weeks at a vacation home they owned in the Hungarian countryside. It was a trip they took almost every year.

Before the journey, their travel agent informed Delta of Vilma’s condition and bought two tickets for her and one for Janos.

They planned to come home Oct. 15 so Vilma could resume treatment with the doctors she had been seeing for years.

But the couple, both natives of Hungary, were told Vilma couldn’t be accommodated by KLM after they boarded the jet home, Janos said.

“They tried to fit her into the back of the plane, but they didn’t have an extension to secure her,” Janos, 56, said.

Her illness, a combination of kidney disease and diabetes, caused her to gain water weight, and the airline said it didn’t have a seat-belt extender for her, Janos said.

He was also told the seat back couldn’t handle his wife’s weight.

“It appeared on the passenger’s return that it was not physically possible for her to board the aircraft, despite every effort made by KLM to this end. A seat or belt extender did not offer a solution, either,” said KLM spokeswoman Ellen van Ginkel.

EXCLUSIVE: Ailing, obese Bronx woman dies after three airlines refuse to fly her back home from Hungary - NYPOST.com

wlillie's picture
Joined: 09/17/07
Posts: 1796

100% their fault; the passengers. If you are in Kidney failure and decide to take a trip knowing you need all sorts of special accomodations and said trip is to a country that can't help you with your kidney failure, then we are finally letting Darwinism work. At 407lbs, I don't think her doctor could have helped her if she'd gotten to them. At least it'll be the airlines having to deal with this man's stupidity and not

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

It seems like the airline knew what was needed to fly them out there - they should have ensured that they were able to do the same on the way back or else not sold them the tickets.

How sad.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4099

I don't see how they are at fault. She was a 407-pound woman with existing health concerns and only one leg. I'm surprised she was allowed on the first flight. Maybe she had been cleared by her doctor. They should have stayed in Hungary and waited for another KLM airplane the next day. And why did she not see a doctor in Hungary when she got sicker?

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

Wait, I am unclear from Gloria's article - were her needs different on the way back than on the way there? If so, then I change my answer.

GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4111

"Spacers" wrote:

And why did she not see a doctor in Hungary when she got sicker?

Exactly. Why is it the airlines fault that they didn't trust the doctors? If she was that sick she should have went anyway.

So they again went back to the vacation home to make other arrangements as Vilma became sicker and sicker.

Neither trusted the doctors in Hungary, especially because they wouldn’t be familiar with her lengthy medical history, Janos said.

“She was very ill and did not trust that the hospitals in former communist Hungary could attend to her needs,” Ronai said.

Janos found Vilma dead two days later and buried her in Hungary.

GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4111

"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

Wait, I am unclear from Gloria's article - were her needs different on the way back than on the way there? If so, then I change my answer.

That's what I got from it. It said that she gained weight and the extender no longer fit her.

“It appeared on the passenger’s return that it was not physically possible for her to board the aircraft, despite every effort made by KLM to this end. A seat or belt extender did not offer a solution, either,” said KLM spokeswoman Ellen van Ginkel.

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

Assuming she had the same needs on the way there and back, I do think that the airline is partially at fault.

Let's say that I am wheelchair bound, and I make it clear to the airline when I buy a round trip that I need special accomodations for my wheelchair. The airline agrees to this, and sells me a round trip ticket. They get me to my destination just fine, but then on the way back they suddenly can't because they don't have any wheelchair accessible planes. Is this my fault or the airline's fault? I think it is the airlines fault, since they knew my needs and agreed to them when they sold me the ticket.

Now, if her needs changed due to her gaining weight (how much weight could she have gained in a month?) to something that the airline didn't originally plan for, and that's why they couldn't fly her back, then I agree the airline is not responsible.

ETA: Clarification - I don't think that the airline is at fault that she died, but I do think they are at fault for not being able to fly her back. Assuming her needs weren't different on the way back than they were on the way there.

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

"GloriaInTX" wrote:

That's what I got from it. It said that she gained weight and the extender no longer fit her.

It didn't say that an extender no longer fit her, it said:

“They tried to fit her into the back of the plane, but they didn’t have an extension to secure her,” Janos, 56, said.

That could mean that they didn't have any extenders, not that the one they used before no longer fit. I mean, how much weight could she have gained in a month that an extender would fit on the flight out, but not on the flight back?

wlillie's picture
Joined: 09/17/07
Posts: 1796

If her condition was so serious that she died in less than a week, she shouldn't have been flying in the first place, right?

And Alissa,
A seat or belt extender did not offer a solution, either,”

mom3girls's picture
Joined: 01/09/07
Posts: 1533

I do not believe that the airline has any culpability.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4099

I have a coworker who is severely obese. She used to carry her own seat belt extender with her when she flew, but most airlines don't allow that anymore. Now she would have to purchase two seats, which our employer won't pay for, so now she just doesn't travel anywhere she can't drive.

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

"wlillie" wrote:

If her condition was so serious that she died in less than a week, she shouldn't have been flying in the first place, right?

And Alissa,
A seat or belt extender did not offer a solution, either,”

I'm sorry, I'm totally confused. I thought the time line of the story (from reading the first article) went that with the first flight (the one that they arranged for when they made the round trip arrangements) - there was a problem with the seat back.

With the next flight (on a different airline) they could not physically get her on the plane, which is why that time there was no issue with the seat belt.

From the OP:

First flight (on KLM):

When the couple went to the airport on Oct. 15 to board a KLM night flight home to New York, they were able to board. However, Ostrov-Ronai said the captain asked Vilma Soltesz to disembark because she could not be secured in her seat due to an issue with a seat back.

2nd flight (on Delta)

They were advised to drive to Prague, where they could catch a "bigger plane" operated by Delta Airlines. When they arrived, Ostrov-Ronai said, the couple was told that Delta only had a plastic wheelchair that could not handle Vilma's weight and that there was no sky lift available to get her onto the plane.

Delta spokesman Russel Cason offered the airline's "sincere condolences" for the passing of Vilma Soltesz.

"Despite a determined good-faith effort by Delta in Prague, we were also physically unable to board her on our aircraft on Oct. 16. For this reason there was never an issue with the use of seat belt extenders," he said.

3rd flight (on Lufthansa)

The couple drove back to their home in Hungary and made another effort, this time through Lufthansa, to get back to the United States. When they boarded, they were forced to disembark by the captain, Ostrov-Ronai said, because Vilma was unable to fasten her seatbelt properly.

(Unclear as to whether they had extenders for her to use or not.)

Am I overthinking things? I thought that the problem with flight that she originally booked the round trip for was about the seat back, and then the problem with Delta was getting her on the plane, and then the problem with Lufthansa was belts? I don't blame Delta and Lufthansa, by the way, only KLM since that was who orginally sold her the round trip ticket and then couldn't come through.

GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4111

"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

That could mean that they didn't have any extenders, not that the one they used before no longer fit. I mean, how much weight could she have gained in a month that an extender would fit on the flight out, but not on the flight back?

It also said (I edited at the same time you posted) that the belt extender did not offer a solution. Which would make me think it no longer fit her, and they didn't have a larger one. One article said 407 lbs and the other says 425 lbs but it isn't really clear if that is how much she gained. If it barely fit I think 20 lbs could make a difference.

“It appeared on the passenger’s return that it was not physically possible for her to board the aircraft, despite every effort made by KLM to this end. A seat or belt extender did not offer a solution, either,” said KLM spokeswoman Ellen van Ginkel.

Also on the other flight, the seat was able to accomodate her but they couldn't get her from her wheelchair into the seat. Not the airlines fault.

Finally, the agent said they could get on an Oct. 22 Lufthansa flight to New York via Frankfurt, which would be able to accommodate her size.

Then trouble struck again.

On the plane, the crew, with help from the local fire department, was unable to move her from her wheelchair to the three seats assigned to her.

The captain ordered them off after 30 minutes of no success.

“We had 140 passengers on board, and they had connections and needed to travel,” said Lufthansa spokesman Nils Haupt. “The question was never the seat belt. The question was the mobility of the passenger.”

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

Haha, I'm still confused about the time line and different reasons of the events, but if the problem was that the same seat belt (with extender) that fit on the way there no longer fit on the way back, I agree that KLM is not at fault.

I also do not think that Delta or Lufthansa are at fault, since they did not sell her the orginal round trip ticket.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6560

I do not really have an opinion on who's fault it is, but I do feel bad for her (before she died) and others like her.

ClairesMommy's picture
Joined: 08/15/06
Posts: 2299

I am uncertain, based on the conflicting statements in the article, whether or not an extender was available. In any event, Hungary is hardly a 3rd world country and any skilled ER would have easily determined kidney failure especially when informed by the husband that she was diabetic and undergoing treatment (I'm assuming dialysis for her failing kidneys). Their choice to try to return to the US instead of seeking immediate medical help when her condition worsened is the reason why she died when she did (although she likely didn't have much time left to begin with). If her treatment in the US was part of ongoing care, as the article Gloria cited said she'd been treated by those doctors for years, then I think their lawyer is doing a good job of spinning her routine care into some kind of live-saving, last ditch emergency procedure. I'm sure there are plenty of obese, diabetic Hungarians undergoing dialysis.

GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4111

"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

Haha, I'm still confused about the time line and different reasons of the events, but if the problem was that the same seat belt (with extender) that fit on the way there no longer fit on the way back, I agree that KLM is not at fault.

I really think that is what happened. It says she was in the airport for 5 hours after, so if it was just a matter of not having an extender on that particular plane I think they could have found one by then. I think the ones they had no longer were big enough. She must have gained enough weight to go over the limits on the seat also, since I'm sure the seats were the same. It says it was water weight, when my sister was pregnant she gained 40 lbs in a week once in water weight and went from 160-200 lbs. They had to put her on some kind of diuretic pills and it went back down. If she was 400 lbs and at the upper limits already even 40-50 lbs could make a big difference.

They tried to fit her into the back of the plane, but they didn’t have an extension to secure her,' he said.

She had gained weight due to her illness and the airline said it did not have a seat-belt extender for her, Mr Soltesz said.

He was also told the seat back could not take his wife’s weight.

Read more: Sick US woman died in Hungary after 'airline booted her off three New York flights because she was too fat to fly' | Mail Online

Joined: 08/17/04
Posts: 2226

The last 2 airlines I'm not placing any fault. They never promised accommodations and they tried their best.

If first airline promised to return her home AND she had not changed size since she left the US. They are partially at fault. She paid for a ticket and they brought her there...they should be able to return her home.

However, if it is true that she gained weight then what they promised is void. She was not in the same state as when she left.

They are not 100% at fault as she could have sought care.

fuchsiasky's picture
Joined: 11/16/07
Posts: 955

"Spacers" wrote:

And why did she not see a doctor in Hungary when she got sicker?

I wondered about this too. If she was so sick, why didn't they go to the hospital?

Sapphire Sunsets's picture
Joined: 05/19/02
Posts: 671

"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

Assuming she had the same needs on the way there and back, I do think that the airline is partially at fault.

Let's say that I am wheelchair bound, and I make it clear to the airline when I buy a round trip that I need special accomodations for my wheelchair. The airline agrees to this, and sells me a round trip ticket. They get me to my destination just fine, but then on the way back they suddenly can't because they don't have any wheelchair accessible planes. Is this my fault or the airline's fault? I think it is the airlines fault, since they knew my needs and agreed to them when they sold me the ticket.

Now, if her needs changed due to her gaining weight (how much weight could she have gained in a month?) to something that the airline didn't originally plan for, and that's why they couldn't fly her back, then I agree the airline is not responsible.

ETA: Clarification - I don't think that the airline is at fault that she died, but I do think they are at fault for not being able to fly her back. Assuming her needs weren't different on the way back than they were on the way there.

to the bolded:

She obviously had major kidney failure, she wasn't getting dialysis there (i'm pretty sure she was getting it back stateside from the sounds of it)....there was no way for the extra water weight to get out of her body. I'm guessing she gained ALOT.

It doesn't make alot of sense to travel knowing you're that sick, and not getting medical treatment along with being out of country that long.

Now, if they had let her fly without the extender and something happened, you know damn well that everyone would be up in arms for letting her fly and the airline would have been 100% liable. You have to consider there liabilty.

Joined: 05/23/12
Posts: 680

I wouldn't blame the airlines for her death. People are aware that flying is not completely reliable. Delays, cancellations, and issues come up all-the-time. ETA: her added weight gain before trying to return to the States must have been the added factor. Probably the seat back had a problem because of trying to hold so much weight against it. She knew she had diabetes and kidney disease before leaving. There is just so much...no the airlines are not at fault.

Her health was already bad. She was morbidly obese. I am positive some doctor must have told her that her health is at extreme risk. She must have been aware of what can happen to the body being 'that' obese. I think personally they knew these things and they risked it because she probably wanted to see her home country, family, etc again. She probably felt like her condition wasn't really going to improve, maybe hoping it would, but if it didn't then she got to see her home, family, friends, etc one last time before she either couldn't fly again or perhaps died.

If a person is that ill, no matter where they are in the world, I believe they will seek out some sort of care. I googled and there are American board certified physicians in her area. If she was still a citizen she could have gotten seen for free even. No one cares that they have a lengthy med history to give if they are about to die. Reports can be faxed or scanned and emailed. But regardless of her medical history, she had a very bad issue - kidney failure. So that would have been treated even not knowing the lengthy history. Now the issue is that when kidney failure is that bad a person needs dialysis or a kidney transplant, then traveling will be come difficult! Nevertheless, there are decent dialysis centers to help her. Budapest isn't that bad, in fact expats (from googling recommendations on healthcare) even seem quite happy with healthcare there!!

She could have sought medical evacuation and a list of centers is on the embassy website (on her own dime or health insurance - some are accepted). I mean she paid for THREE airline tickets, not so cheap. So I assume she could afford a little bit more for this emergency.

So what I would have done is tried to get emergency renal treatment with dialysis and arranged for medical evacuation. These special planes probably even can arrange for dialysis while ON the plane back home! These machines are portable.

Bottom line for me is that I think they knew. It's sad..really. I feel sad for people. But milking the airline for their OWN misjudgment is inappropriate. Everyone knows life doesn't go as expected, thousands of miles away from home, when they should have stayed home and worked on bettering her life. Instead it cost hers. When you go overseas, everyone knows life does not go as expected. This suit needs to be dropped and cope with the loss. Accepting their own blame is probably tough. But getting benefit from airline is just far from appropriate.

Again, I feel it is soooo extremely sad. Loss of life is really hard. But, it's not fair to blame the airlines.

Log in or register to post comments