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New York Woman Dies in Hungary After Airlines Said She Was Too Fat to Fly

Travelers Today       By    Katie McFadden

Updated: Nov 26, 2012 12:29 PM EST

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Lufthansa’s Blue Legends for Flyers
A pilot is being praised after he asked a passenger to step in to help land a flight after the co-pilot became sick. The passenger happened to be an off-duty pilot. (Photo : Reuters)

A husband of an obese New York woman claims that his wife died in Hungary after three airlines wouldn't transport her back home for medical treatment, because she was too overweight. 

Janos Soltesz and his 56-year-old wife, Vilma, took a yearly trip to a vacation home in Hungary for a few weeks. Vilma weighed 425 pounds, had one leg and was wheelchair bound. She also had kidney disease and diabetes. The woman needed two seats on a plane, so a  travel agent informed KLM and Delta airlines about the issue and booked the return flight before they left for their trip in September.

However, when the couple boarded their return flight with KLM on Oct. 15 so Soltesz could go home to her doctors to receive medical treatment for her kidney disease and diabetes, they were told that the airline couldn't accomodate her because she was too large.

"They tried to fit her into the back of the plane, but they didn't have an extension to secure her," Janos, 56, told the New York Post.

Vilma, who gained significant water weight due to her illnesses, boarded the plane, but they couldn't accommodate her. The airline said the seat back wouldn't support her and that they didn't have a seat belt extender that would fit.

"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,"  KLM spokeswoman Ellen van Ginkel told the Post.

Janos and Vilma had to get off the plane and were told that they would be booked on another flight. They waited for five hours at the airport until they were told to drive five hours to Prague for a Delta flight that would be able to accommodate her.

"This absolutely contributed to the cause of her death," attorney Holly Ostrov Ronai told the Post. "They managed to get her over there and were obligated to get her home."

When they got to the airport in Prague, Delta told the couple that their wheelchairs wouldn't be able to support her weight and they couldn't put her on the sky-lift elevator.

"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," Delta spokesman Russel Cason told the Post.

The couple gave up on their first attempt at returned to their vacation home so they could have their travel agent make other plans. The agent booked them on a Oct. 22 flight from Frankfurt, Germany with Lufthansa. The airline said they would be able to accommodate her.

However Lufthansa was also unable to help her. The flight crew and local firefighters tried to move the woman from her wheelchair to the seats that were assigned to her, but after 30 minutes of attempts, the captain made the couple get off.

"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."

The couple once again returned to their vacation home and tried to make other arrangements, but Vilma became sicker. The couple did not trust the Hungarian doctors as they weren't familiar with her extensive medical history.

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

Vilma died in her vacation home and was buried there. 

"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 told the Post. "I'm lonely now. Wherever I am going, I am just going alone. I am missing her a lot," Soltesz's attorney, Ronai is considering filing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the airlines for violating laws protecting the disabled. 

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