SAN DIEGO — A woman caught on video punching a flight attendant on a San Diego-bound flight last year will spend up to 15 months in federal custody and pay nearly $26,000 in restitution for the attack, a judge ruled Friday.
Vyvianna Quinonez’s sentence came almost a year to the date after she swung wildly at the Southwest Airlines employee on a flight from Sacramento to San Diego.
The then-28-year-old grabbed the flight attendant by the hair and punched her in the head and face, leaving the victim with three chipped teeth and a battered eye that required stitches, according to prosecutors.
It all started with an argument between Quinonez and multiple Southwest employees during the flight’s descent on May 23, 2021.
Airline officials say Quinonez refused to properly wear a face mask, put on her seat belt or put up her tray table, bickering with flight attendants when they asked her to comply with federal regulations. She shouted profanities and started filming one of the attendants on her phone before standing up and shoving the other woman.
Video shows several passengers grab at Quinonez, eventually helping break up the fight, but not before the passenger pummeled the flight attendant. In December of last year, Quinonez pleaded guilty to interfering with flight crew members and admitted assaulting the other woman.
In a letter submitted to the U.S. District Court tasked with sentencing Quinonez, a Southwest Airlines spokesperson said she “created a situation onboard Flight 700 that jeopardized the entire flight and created an unsafe environment.”
She added that Quinonez’s “actions negatively impacted our workgroup beyond description … causing fear to come permanently into the workplace.”
The maximum penalty for interference with flight crew members and attendants is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine under federal law.
Judge Todd Robinson sentenced Quinonez to serve 15 months in federal prison, pay $25,981.57 in restitution, pay a $7,500 fine and serve three additional years of supervised release. During that supervised release, Quinonez will have to participate in counseling or anger management classes and will be banned from flying on commercial aircraft.
“Today’s sentence should send a very strong message to air travelers — the FBI will vigorously pursue
anyone who assaults or interferes with flight crews,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy said in a statement.
Quinonez’s attack on the flight attendant drew national attention during a year when arguments over pandemic safety measures led the way to a “disturbing increase” in FAA violations.