NEW YORK - A New York City lawyer has sued Delta Air Lines Inc. for nearly $1 million, claiming the company's incompetent and rude employees made his 80-year-old mother's birthday trip to South America a stressful, costly horror.

Richard Roth says that not only did he and his family arrive in Buenos Aires almost three days late, but he had to spend unplanned thousands of dollars on food, hotels and transportation, and buy tickets for another airline.

And because Delta misplaced his luggage, Roth's lawsuit says, he had to buy new clothes for himself and family members after arriving in Buenos Aires.

Though he was promised that Delta would bring his luggage, Roth says he had to drive to the airport in Buenos Aires to look for and retrieve his bags himself.

During the ordeal, Roth's court papers say, several Delta employees were "nasty," "rude," "obnoxious" and "totally disrespectful." Those who were courteous were generally ineffectual in assisting him, the court papers say.

A Delta spokeswoman, Betsy Talton, said yesterday that she could not comment on pending litigation.

Roth, 49, of Scarsdale, N.Y., said that he had arranged for his mother to fly to her native Argentina during the 2007 Christmas holidays. He says he and his family were scheduled to fly from the Westchester County Airport the evening of Dec. 20.

Roth said that he was with his mother, his wife and his teenage son and daughter. They were to meet a 20-year-old cousin in Atlanta and take a connecting flight to Buenos Aires, where they would celebrate his mother's 80th birthday.

In Atlanta, say court papers filed Friday in Manhattan's state Supreme Court, a gate agent refused to let Roth and his family onto the jet for the connecting flight, although the plane was sitting at the gate with the door open.

Roth says that his cousin, already on the plane, told him by cell phone that there were several empty seats. When Roth asked the agent to speak to the pilot, he replied, "The pilot is not in charge here. I am. All the pilot does is fly the plane."

Roth's court papers say that after he and his family spent two nights in Atlanta, a ticket agent told him that Delta could not get him to Argentina before Jan. 8. So they flew to Florida, spent a night there and took an Aerolineas Argentina flight to Buenos Aires after buying one-way tickets, court papers say.

Roth said that he and his family returned to New York aboard a Delta flight on Dec. 31.

Roth said Tuesday that he wants $21,000 for out-of-pocket expenses and another $275,000 in compensatory damages for emotional distress. He said he also wants punitive damages, which would be at least three times the compensatory amount. *