A passenger whose wife died after she was unable to board a flight home because she had apparently put on too much weight during her holiday has filed a law suit against Delta, KLM and Lufthansa.
Lawyers acting on behalf of Janos Soltesz are accusing the airlines of gross negligence.
Vilma Soltesz, who weighed over 400 pounds, had one leg and used a wheelchair, had flown to her native Hungary from the US on Delta and KLM. She had apparently gained additional weight while in Hungary and was unable to board her Delta/KLM flight home for medical treatment for kidney problems and diabetes because the aircraft did not have a large enough seat extension.
The couple were allegedly told to drive to Prague to try and board another flight that did have seat extensions. Once in Prague, Soltesz could not be transferred to the flight because equipment could not be found to hold her weight.
Their US travel agent found them another flight with Lufthansa, via Frankfurt, but the aircraft had the same issue and could not transfer Soltesz into the aircraft. A local fire crew were brought in to help, but they were unable to lift her from her wheelchair.
Soltesz died while waiting in Prague to board another flight.
Delta, KLM and Lufthansa issued statements explaining their reasons for being unable to accommodate her.
Lufthansa said: "Lufthansa, together with its local partners, fire brigade and technical experts at Budapest Airport, tried its utmost to accommodate this passenger on board our flight from Budapest.
"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. Safe and reliable operations are Lufthansa's paramount priorities at all times."
Delta said,:"Delta and KLM did everything possible to assist the family. When KLM was unable to safely board Mrs Soltesz in Budapest, it was determined she might be able to fly on the larger Delta aircraft out of Prague, but unfortunately that was not the case.
"Our records indicate Delta staff in Prague made repeated attempts for nearly an hour to board the customer, but they were unable to get her onboard the aircraft."
The lawsuit, filed by the Manhattan lawfirm of Ronai and Ronai, alleges various counts of gross negligence, recklessness and willful misconduct in the boarding and disembarking of Soltesz.
Attorney Holly Ostrov Ronai said: "The airlines were informed well in advance of Vilma's condition and undertook a duty to get Vilma home. In forcing her to go from airline to airline, get on and off several planes and drive to another airport in a different country, the airlines not only failed in their duty to get her home, but gravely injured her.
"What is quite telling is that Mr. Soltesz had a tiny little Suzuki car and was forced to drive his wife from the Budapest airport to the airport in Prague. He got Vilma into his tiny little car all by himself, yet the airlines couldn't manage to get Vilma into a huge aircraft."
Attorney Peter Ronai added: "Vilma Soltesz' death was completely preventable. She died because the airlines simply did not want to be bothered or inconvenienced.
"They merely needed to have the proper standard equipment, such as a skylift and wheelchair, to get her onboard and seated, but instead they shirked their responsibility and passed the buck."
The lawsuit, which was filed on Monday in federal court in Manhattan, will be served on the defendant airlines within the next two weeks.
Delta Airlines spokesman Russell Cason said: "We believe the suit is entirely without merit. After the operating carrier in Budapest was physically unable to board Mrs. Soltesz on its flight, and despite a determined good-faith effort by Delta in Prague, we were also physically unable to board her on our aircraft on Oct. 16. Delta employees did everything possible to assist the Soltesz family with their travel, but unfortunately Mrs. Soltesz' physical condition was such that she was unable to be boarded on the aircraft."
By TravelMole US editor Gretchen Kelly
Tuesday, February 5, 2013