A sickly, obese Bronx woman was left stranded in Hungary then died from kidney failure after airline officials booted her from three New York-bound flights because she was too fat, her husband says.
“All we wanted was to come back home to get her treatment,” said a grieving Janos Soltesz, a Staten Island Ferry security guard whose 56-year-old wife, Vilma, died in Hungary nine days after she was kicked off the first of three jets.
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.
Before the journey, their travel agent informed Delta of Vilma’s condition and bought two tickets for her and one for Janos.They spent several relaxing weeks at a vacation home they owned in the Hungarian countryside. It was a trip they took almost every year.
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.
Janos said his wife was already seated when they were asked to leave.
Airline staffers told them they would make calls and try to get her on a different flight. The couple sat at the airport for five hours.
Then they were told to drive five hours to Prague for a Delta plane that could accommodate her as a disabled person, said attorney Holly Ostrov Ronai, who is mulling a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the airlines accusing them of violating laws protecting the disabled.
“This absolutely contributed to the cause of her death,” Ronai said.
“They managed to get her over there and were obligated to get her home.”
In Prague, Delta staff told the couple the airline’s plastic wheelchair couldn’t hold her weight, Janos said.
The staff also couldn’t put her on the sky-lift elevator, the airline said.
“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,” said Delta spokesman Russel Cason.
So the couple drove back to their vacation home and called their New York travel agent to make other arrangements.
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.”
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.
“I’m lonely now. Wherever I am going, I am just going alone. I am missing her a lot,” he said, adding he was grateful to work his ferry job on Thanksgiving to keep his mind off his late wife.
“There were only two women in my life — my mother, who I lived with for 23 years, and Vilma, who I lived with for 33 years,” Janos said.