Woman gets 15 months in prison for punching flight attendant in the face

A California woman who repeatedly punched a Southwest Airlines flight attendant last year, drawing blood from her face and knocking out three teeth, was sentenced Friday to 15 months in federal prison, prosecutors said.

The woman, Vyvianna M. Quinonez, 29, of Sacramento, will also have to pay nearly $26,000 in restitution and a $7,500 fine, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California. A video of the attack, which occurred in May 2021, was widely viewed on social media.

Judge Todd W. Robinson of the United States District Court also ordered that Ms. Quinonez be placed on supervised release for three years after completing her sentence, during which time she will not be able to fly on any commercial aircraft.

The assault came amid a spate of unruly and violent behavior by passengers who pushed, punched and yelled at flight attendants. Within days of the attack, two major airlines, American and Southwest, postponed plans to start serving alcohol on flights again in an effort to stop the behavior. Both airlines have since resumed alcohol sales.

“Violence on planes endangers the lives of everyone on board,” Randy Grossman, US Attorney for the Southern District of California, said in a statement Friday. “Attacks on flight crew members, who perform vital jobs to ensure the safety of passengers, will not be tolerated.”

An attorney for Quinonez, who pleaded guilty in December in connection with the assault, could not be immediately reached for comment Friday night.

In a letter filed with the court on May 20, Ms. Quiñonez apologized for assaulting the flight attendant. She said that she had been depressed and humiliated due to the negative attention. The experience, she said, “changed me profoundly.”

On May 23, 2021, near the end of a flight from Sacramento to San Diego, a flight attendant asked Ms. Quiñonez to fasten her seat belt, place her tray and “wear her mask properly,” prosecutors said. .

Ms. Quinonez used her phone to film the flight attendant and pushed the woman, prosecutors said. The attack escalated from there, as captured on video by another passenger.

Ms. Quiñonez, who was sitting in an aisle seat, stood up and punched the attendant in the face multiple times, according to the video. She also grabbed her hair before the woman could back down the hall. Several passengers grabbed Ms. Quiñonez’s clothing to try to stop her.

Prosecutors said the flight attendant, who was not named in court documents, was taken to a hospital with injuries that included a swollen eye, a bruised arm and a cut under her eye that had to be stitched up. They said she also had three chipped teeth, two of which had to be replaced with crowns.

In a letter dated May 18 to Judge Robinson, a Southwest representative said the company wanted the sentence to serve as a deterrent to rebellious and violent behavior. The letter said the company’s executive team had heard from “countless flight attendants” who felt attacked during a pandemic that brought fear around travel to an all-time high.

“What happened on Flight 700 was absolutely horrible,” wrote Sonya Lacore, vice president of Southwest. “In my 20+ year career at Southwest, I have never seen such an unforgivable and violent assault on a flight attendant by a passenger. Worse yet, the incident was captured on video and broadcast through television and media channels.”

“The video of the assault still makes me sick,” he added.

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