The passenger who was caught assaulting a Southwest Airlines flight attendant last May has now been sentenced to 15 months in federal custody, and the FBI hopes this sends a “strong message” to unruly travelers.
Vyvianna M. Quinonez, the now 29-year-old female who was on a Southwest Airlines Flight from Sacramento to San Diego on 23 May 2021 during the attack, has also been ordered by the US District Court to pay $25,981.57 in restitution, on top of a $7,500 fine.
The sentencing was announced on Friday by the Southern District of California, and is a major win for flight crew across the globe after calls for unruly passengers to be publicly prosecuted have risen during the pandemic.
“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,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy.
In May last year, Quinonez, who was age 28 at the time, was caught on video injuring a Southwest crew member, resulting in multiple damages to her teeth and head.
According to admissions in the plea agreement, the passenger failed to comply with multiple flight crew’s safety demands, such as putting on her seatbelt, wearing a mask and lifting her tray table during descent.
This led to Quinonez standing up and assaulting the flight attendant, which was all recorded-on camera by surrounding passengers who also attempted to stop the attack. The crew member who sustained several injuries was then taken to the hospital.
Later that year, Quinonez pleaded guilty to the charge.
“Violence on aircraft endangers the lives of all onboard,” said US Attorney Randy Grossman.
“Attacks on flight crew members, who perform vital jobs to ensure passenger safety, will not be tolerated. We will pursue criminal charges against those who violate the law both at the airport and aboard aircraft while in flight.”
The US District Court Judge also barred Quinonez from flying on commercial aircraft during her three years of supervised release and has been ordered to undergo anger management classes and counselling.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, numbers of unruly passengers on flights have hit record numbers due to ongoing opposition against the federal mask mandate.
Last year saw over 1,000 investigations initiated from the reports, compared to only 183 in 2020, and even less in previous years, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Fines handed to unruly passengers reached US$1 million by August, and the highest came from a passenger on the budget carrier JetBlue, who received a US$45,000 penalty in May for throwing objects, refusing to stay seated and also assaulting a flight attendant.
In a letter filed with the court, vice president of inflight operations for Southwest Airlines, Sonya Lacore, stated that Quinonez “created a situation onboard Flight 700 that jeopardized the entire flight and created an unsafe environment”.
She said that Quinonez’s “actions negatively impacted our workgroup beyond description … causing fear to come permanently into the workplace.
“Southwest hopes that the ultimate sentence imposed in this matter will serve as a deterrent for others who may contemplate engaging in similar dangerous behavior aboard our aircraft.”