• The San Juan Daily Star

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

The assault, which occurred on a Southwest Airlines flight from Sacramento to San Diego on May 21, 2021, came amid a surge of unruly and violent behavior by passengers.

By Vimal Patel

A California woman who repeatedly punched a Southwest Airlines flight attendant last year, bloodying her face and chipping three of her teeth, was sentenced late last week to 15 months in federal prison, prosecutors said.

Vyvianna M. Quinonez, 29, of Sacramento, will also have to pay nearly $26,000 in restitution and a $7,500 fine, according to the U.S. 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.

U.S. District Judge Todd W. Robinson also ordered Quinonez to be on supervised release for three years after completing her sentence, during which she will be barred from flying on any commercial aircraft.

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

“Violence on aircraft endangers the lives of all onboard,” Randy Grossman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, said in a statement Friday. “Attacks on flight crew members, who perform vital jobs to ensure passenger safety, will not be tolerated.”

A lawyer for Quinonez, who pleaded guilty in December in connection with the assault, could not immediately be reached for comment late Friday.

In a letter filed with the court May 20, Quinonez apologized for assaulting the flight attendant. She said she had been depressed and humiliated because of 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 Quinonez to buckle her seat belt, put up her tray table and “wear her face mask properly,” prosecutors said.

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.

Quinonez, 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 attendant was able to move back up the aisle. Several passengers grabbed at Quinonez’s clothes 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. They said she also had three chipped teeth, two of which had to be replaced with crowns.

According to court documents, Quinonez sought a sentence of time served, while prosecutors had requested four months in custody and six months in home confinement. In imposing the longer sentence, Robinson “strongly considered the need for general deterrence,” Jaclyn Stahl, an assistant U.S. attorney, said in an email.

“He explained that the victims included not just the flight attendant victim and Southwest Airlines but all passengers on the plane that day and flight attendants working in the industry,” Stahl said.

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

“What happened on Flight 700 was absolutely horrific,” wrote Sonya Lacore, a vice president at Southwest. “In my 20+ year career at Southwest, I have never seen such an inexcusable, violent assault of a flight attendant by a passenger. Even worse, the incident was captured on video and cast across television and media channels.

“The video of the assault still sickens me,” she added.

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