Over the past few years, overweight and obese passengers on US airlines have been refused boarding, humiliated in gate areas, forced to buy extra seats to accommodate their weight/bulk and in other ways mistreated by airlines in a way that is unlawful in countries such as Canada, which recognize obesity as a legitimate medical condition. Sadly, KLM, Delta, and Lufthansa have become embroiled a wrongful death suit which reads like something out of Kafka and which resulted in the death of a passenger who was refused boarding again and again while trying to return to New York to see her doctor for an urgent, life-threatening illness for which she could not get treatment in Hungary while on vacation.
Vilma Stolesz, resident in New York City, and her husband Janos, went to Hungary on vacation in September without incident. Vilma was a wheelchair-bound amputee, and for their vacation itinerary she and her husband bought three seats: two for Vilma to accommodate her large size, and one for her husband in the same row. Their trip to Hungary was uneventful. Here's where things go very wrong, however. in October, Vilma contacted her doctor in New York due to a developing illness and was advised to return to see him as soon as possible.
The couple was to return from Hungary to the U.S. on a KLM flight departing from Budapest on Oct. 15, 2012. The lawsuit states that the couple was issued boarding passes and boarded their flight, but once on the plane, found the seatbacks of two seats in their row were broken, preventing Mrs. Soltesz from maneuvering her wheelchair into her assigned seats. They were not offered new seats. Instead, the captain told them they must disembark, the suit claims.At this point, we don't know why KLM, then Delta, and then finally Lufthansa, which boarded her and then forced her to disembark on October 22, couldn't somehow manage to get a paid, confirmed passenger who had arranged properly for wheelchair boarding, bought the extra seats, and had no problem at all GETTING to Hungary, could not get back, but by the time Lufthansa had boarded and then forced her to disembark, Vilma Stolesz had died of kidney failure.
Five hours later, the lawsuit states, KLM employees told the couple the airline had made arrangements for them to take a Delta flight to New York from Prague the following day. The couple said in court papers that they drove 4.5 hours to Prague that night and were issued boarding passes for the flight to New York. They confirmed with the airline that proper arrangements had been made concerning Vilma's weight and medical condition.
They attempted to board the aircraft, but the airline did not have the proper wheelchair to transport Vilma. They were forced to get off the plane, the lawsuit claims. Janos said the airline told him it "did not have access to a skylift" to transport his wife and there was nothing more they could do.
Now on a personal note, I have not had the best time on DailyKos over the past four years, and some of my worst moments have been reading callous and spontaneous expressions of fat hatred. Yes, obesity is a growing epidemic in the US, yet doctors are at a loss to figure out why; there are many clues in the corruption of our food quality over the past 20-30 years and addition of dangerous quantities of trans fats, cholesterol, chemicals, genetically modified substances, fillers, high fructose corn syrup, sodium, which could very well be the biggest culprits. If obesity were simply a problem of "people who can't control themselves" then it wouldn't be the public health menace that it is, and it would not have been a sudden entry on the scene of public health in the US - it would have been a consistent problem over the course of time - and it's not.
In my own case, I was born with a 'zebra' - a very rare medical condition which caused me to be grossly underweight until puberty and uncontrollably overweight after puberty, a disorder of the adrenal glands that was not diagnosed until 30 years of fruitlessly attempting to control my weight and size with exercise and diet, fighting an unknown foe. I don't know what kind of condition Vilma Stolesz had, but I do know what it is like to live in a body that others find too big - and to not be able to do anything about it. And like Vilma Stolesz, I have run the gauntlet of being too big for the seats that airlines deem the proper size for human beings; unlike Vilma Stolesz, though, I do not suffer a life-threatening condition that would incapacitate me and limit me to a wheelchair; I have flown hundreds of times and with very little flak from the airlines and from other passengers: until recently. But like Vilma, I spend the extra money to make sure that others are not inconvenienced by my oversizedness - but for me a business class seat does the trick. I have only once had to buy two seats, on a trip to Australia when I was much bigger than I am now.
One of the things I keep hoping will happen here at DailyKos is that in the torrent of support for ending all other forms of socially-corrosive prejudice against minorities of all kinds, that we can tackle the last acceptable prejudice which seems equally strong across the political spectrum: the hatred of fat and fat people. I have endured some pretty insensitive commentary here, and a lot of it has to do with painting large-size Republicans (Rush, Newt, Christie with excoriating hatred - just because they are fat) and giving a large (see what I did there?) margin of sneering for Al Gore, Michael Moore and other large liberals for no apparent reason.
One thing I truly enjoyed about living in Germany was the fact that there is very little social expression of fat hate; and I learned while I was living there just how petty, mean, vindictive and downright cruel Americans can be, simply because they can. I am lucky in that I don't hate myself the way so many people of size do. I am battling an objective problem which even my endocrinologist scratches his head over; but most obese people don't have the comfort of a medical bracelet showing there is some objective reason for their size which doesn't involve too many bags of potato chips at midnight.
I would like to start a dialog here at DKos about how we can battle this bigotry here as well; and I hope that Vilma Stolesz did not die in vain to get some acknowledgement that the mistreatment and lack of accommodation for the disabled and obese - who are objectively medically ill, should be put at greater risk simply because they would like to go on vacation.
3:25 PM PT: Update: Thank you for whoever put this on the rec list - and thank you all of those who have um, 'weighed' in. The news story that prompted my writing the diary clearly has far more elements to it than what I found there: I linked to it because it seemed a good touchpoint for discussion of how to improve the tone and comments concerning prejudice against overweight and obese people and the progressive cause as a minority issue on DailyKos. I am very gratified that there were so few insults thrown out here and we have had almost no pie-fighting! hooray!