By Julie Watson
SAN DIEGO (AP) — A California woman who punched a Southwest Airlines flight attendant in the face during a flight, breaking her teeth, has been sentenced to 15 months in federal prison.
Vyvianna Quinonez was also ordered Tuesday by a San Diego federal judge to pay nearly $26,000 in restitution and a $7,500 fine for the assault on a May 23, 2021, Southwest flight from Sacramento to San Diego.
Quinonez, 29, of Sacramento, a woman banned from flying for three years while on probation and required to attend anger management classes or counseling.
Last year, Quinonez pleaded guilty to one count of interfering with flight crew and flight attendants, admitting she punched the flight attendant in the face and head with a clenched fist and grabbed his hair. Neither she nor her lawyer could be reached for comment on Tuesday.
During the last descent of the flight, the stewardess had asked Quinonez to buckle his seat belt, put away his tablet and put on his face mask correctly.
Instead, Quinonez began recording the attendant on her cell phone, shoved her, then stood up and punched the woman in the face and grabbed her hair before other passengers intervened, authorities said.
The attack was recorded on another passenger’s mobile phone.
The plea agreement said the flight attendant suffered from three chipped teeth, two of which needed crowns, as well as bruises and a cut under her left eye which required stitches.
“Attacks on flight crew members, who perform vital duties to keep passengers safe, 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 travelers – 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 call for more federal air marshals on planes.
In 2021, airlines reported more than 5,000 unruly passenger incidents to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Most were passengers refusing to follow the federal requirement for passengers to wear face masks on planes, but nearly 300 passengers involved were intoxicated, the FAA said.