A California woman was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for punching a Southwest Airlines flight attendant in the face during a flight, fracturing her teeth. A federal judge in San Diego ordered Vyvianna Quinonez to pay roughly $26,000 in restitution and a $7,500 fine for the attack on a Southwest trip between Sacramento and San Diego on May 23, 2021.
The 29-year-old Sacramento woman is prohibited from flying for three years while she is on supervised release and must participate in anger management classes or counselling. Quinonez last year pleaded guilty to one count of interference with flight crew members and attendants, admitting she punched the flight attendant in the face and head with a closed fist and grabbed her hair. Neither she nor her attorney could be reached for comment Tuesday.
During the flight’s final descent, the attendant had asked Quinonez to buckle her seat belt, stow her tray table, and put on her face mask properly.
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Instead, Quinonez began recording the attendant on her cellphone, pushed her, then stood up and punched the woman in the face and grabbed her hair before other passengers intervened, authorities said.
The assault was recorded on another passenger’s cellphone. The plea agreement said that the flight attendant suffered three chipped teeth, two of which needed crowns, along with bruises and a cut under her left eye that needed stitches.
“Attacks on flight crew members, who perform vital jobs to ensure passenger safety, will not be tolerated,” U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said in a statement after the sentencing.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy said, “the sentence should send a very strong message to air travellers; the FBI will vigorously pursue anyone who assaults or interferes with flight crews.”
The incident was part of an escalation in unruly behavior by airline passengers amid the coronavirus pandemic and led the president of the flight attendants’ union to ask for more federal air marshals on planes.
Airlines in 2021 reported more than 5,000 incidents of unruly passengers to the Federal Aviation Administration. Most passengers refused to follow the federal requirement for passengers to wear face masks while on planes, but nearly 300 involved intoxicated passengers, the FAA said.
With inputs from AP