First, my heart goes out to the family of Vilma Soltesz. Her case became known around the globe after three airlines — Delta, Lufthansa and KLM — refused to let her board on flights from her vacation home in Hungary to her permanent home in New York City, allegedly because she was deemed too overweight (at 452 lbs.) to fly. While she was waiting to get home, Soltesz died of complications due to health issues caused by her weight. Now her husband, Janos Soltesz, is blaming all three airlines for her death and has threatened a lawsuit.
Regular readers know that I have been in the aviation business for 20 years including stints at two airlines. And kids, as bad as I feel for the Soltesz family, I’m siding with the airlines on this one. If you read the original story in the Daily Mail, Vilma was 452 lbs, only had one leg and needed a wheelchair. She also had kidney disease and diabetes, which begs the question — was she even healthy enough to fly in the first place?
The first airline, KLM, said it was unable to accommodate her because she couldn’t be seated without a seat belt extender. Vilma had allegedly gained more weight during her vacation, which made the extender useless. And we all know you can’t fly if the seat belt doesn’t fit, so it’s not KLM’s fault that this was the case.
So next, the pair drove five hours to Prague to catch a flight on Delta Air Lines (my former employer). It was unfortunate that the airline allegedly discovered that its plastic wheelchair used to board disabled passengers couldn’t hold Vilma’s weight, nor could she be accommodated on the sky lift elevator. Again, unfortunate, but not Delta’s fault. It appears that the airline made a good-faith effort to board the Soltesz’s.
Then the couple managed to snag seats on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to New York. The German flag carrier reportedly called the local fire department to try to get Vilma into the seats assigned to her on the flight. But after a half hour of trying, the captain of the flight asked the couple not to board the flight. He was right to be concerned that the repeated attempts to board Vilma would affect the connections of the other passengers on the flight. The captain and the airline made the right decision, choosing to focus on the needs of the majority of the passengers on the flight.
Again, I have nothing but sympathy for the Soltesz family and their loss. But in this case, the airlines involved were not to blame. If this case ever gets to court, I truly hope sensible heads will prevail and the airlines will be absolved of responsibility.