The travel section of NBC News recently covered a story of a 425-pound woman who, while attempting to return from an overseas trip, was turned away by three different airlines and kept from returning to the United States. Vilma Soltesz, unable to receive proper treatments for her weight condition, died overseas, resulting in legal action from Soltesz’s husband and family. Amidst statements being spun by airline representatives, questions are being asked of overweight traveler procedures and which responsibilities fall on the traveler and which fall on the airline.
Before I go any further with the discussion, I feel that it is important to state that this is a tragedy that could have been avoided. The loss of a human life was completely unnecessary in this situation, and that it is now our responsibility to question procedures in an appropriate manner to make sure situations like this can be handled rationally and in line with the safety of all parties involved.
Vilma Soltesz’s death was tragic and avoidable, raising the discussion of how it could have been avoided, who is responsible for accommodating who, and how things should change moving forward. There are a number of questions that need to be addressed to come to a reasonable and fair solution to the issue of accommodating overweight passengers:
At what point does personal responsibility take precedent over the responsibility of the airline carrier to accommodate an overweight passenger? The article discusses how the flights would not take Vilma because they did not have seatbelt extenders large enough to fasten around her. Is it Vilma’s responsibility to make sure she is physically capable of travel, or should airlines, as a whole, carry extenders that can accommodate any person of any size? At what weight or size do you draw the line?
Vilma took the initiative of booking two seats next to each other from her departure flight out of New York and landed overseas in Budapest without a hitch. Why are some airplanes equipped with appropriate means to accommodate a passenger her size and others are not?
The family’s attorney, Holly Ostrov Ronai, is suing the three different airlines for 6 million dollars on the grounds that they violated the Air Carrier Access Act by not providing the proper accommodations, ultimately leading to her death.
DOT Spokesman, Bill Mosely, counters by explaining that every airline has a right to deny a passenger service if they deem that it endangers the safety of the other passengers and thus, the flight.
Both sides have completely legitimate and viable stances and it will be interesting to see how the case is resolved. The issue seems to be in the grey area that exists in the policies for providing travel services for overweight passengers. Apparently, some airlines are more lenient with the size of the person flying on their plane, while others have stricter standards. While numeric and steadfast standards could possibly be seen as a solution (example: you must be under [this weight] to fly), airlines would suffer backlash from customers feeling as though their freedom of lifestyle is coming under attack, continuing the trend of hypersensitivity towards obese passengers (or “customers of size”, as some say).
All of the public relations spinning and framing does not detract from the fact that someone lost their life because of the lack of set standards that exist for these situations. How do you think this should have been handled? Are airlines responsible for accommodating any sized passenger, or should travelers be held to a set of standards before being allowed to travel? Is there another solution?
One thing is certain, something needs to change.
You can read the original story here: http://www.nbcnews.com/travel/obese-flier-turned-away-airlines-dies-overseas-1C7277987