SAN DIEGO — A woman who punched a flight attendant in the face on a Sunday trip to San Diego is the latest in what federal authorities say have been thousands of recent incidents involving disorderly passengers.
The Federal Aviation Administration says it’s fielded roughly 2,500 “unruly passenger” reports filed by airlines since the beginning of the year, including 1,900 reports of passengers refusing to wear a face mask.
Passengers say that was the source of the disagreement on Southwest flight 700 from Sacramento to San Diego Sunday morning.
“You can hear the passenger saying, ‘Get off me,’ and you can hear the one in the middle saying, ‘We’re going to sue you,’” said Michelle Manner, who recorded video of the attack.
Manner said two had been going back and forth about the woman’s mask being below her nose for some time: “That’s when she just stood up and decked her. She should not have done that, obviously. No one can ever be OK with laying hands on anybody.”
According to the FAA, scenes like that are a growing problem as more people get vaccinated and authorities ease health restrictions, increasing the number of travelers getting back on planes. The FAA has taken a zero-tolerance policy with anyone who resorts to violence on an aircraft, and they’ve now extended that approach indefinitely.
“If you disrupt a flight with violent behavior, you’ll face a civil penalty from the FAA of up to $30,000 and possible prison time as well,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson explained when he announced the policy in January.
The woman accused of punching the flight attendant in Sunday’s incident, 28-year-old Vyvianna Quinonez, was escorted off the plane by San Diego Harbor police and arrested. She faces two counts of battery and will appear before a judge for the first time in September.
“It’s sad,” one traveler told FOX 5 Wednesday. “I feel bad for the flight attendants, never knowing who’s going to go off. It’s definitely a different world traveling today.”
The federal mask mandate on planes and in airports is in effect until at least Sept. 13.