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Passenger who attacked flight attendant on San Diego-bound plane gets prison

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Flight attendant punched by passenger
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A passenger who attacked a flight attendant on a San Diego-bound plane last year, leaving the victim with broken teeth, was sentenced in San Diego federal court Friday to 15 months in federal custody.

The sentence that Vyvianna Quinonez, 29, received from U.S. District Judge Todd Robinson is more than what prosecutors had sought, which was four months in custody and six months of house arrest.

Robinson also ordered the Sacramento resident to pay a $7,500 fine — prosecutors had asked for a fine of $5,000 — and ordered her to spend three years on supervised release. During that time, Quinonez must attend anger management classes, and she is not allowed to fly on commercial aircraft.

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A bystander recorded the attack on the plane just before it landed in San Diego on May 23, 2021, and the 44-second video quickly went viral. The attack also served as a high-profile example of what the Federal Aviation Administration said was the rapid rise of “unruly” passenger behavior last year.

Quinonez pleaded guilty to interfering with the duties of a flight attendant and agreed to pay nearly $26,000 in restitution.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaclyn Stahl called Quinonez’s behavior “unconscionable” and said Friday’s sentence was “justice for the victims,” including the airline and the several dozen passengers on board.

“Today’s sentence should send a clear message that interference with flight crew members and violence aboard aircraft… will not be tolerated, and there will be grave consequences for doing so,” Stahl said.

The attack followed the flight attendant’s request that Quinonez fasten her seatbelt, stow her tray table and pull up her face mask as Southwest Airlines Flight 700 out of Sacramento neared its San Diego destination.

Quinonez instead shouted profanities and took swings at the airline staffer. Other passengers jumped in to stop the attack, and one wedged himself between Quinonez and the flight attendant.

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The victim sustained broken teeth and a cut that left a scar under her eye. Stahl said the flight attendant was off work for several months after the incident.

In a motion asking Robinson to sentence Quinonez to house arrest, defense attorney Knut Johnson said Quinonez “is a good person who made a really big mistake in the heat of the moment, and who immediately regretted her mistake.”

Her attorney also noted that the FAA is seeking as much as $24,000 from Quinonez. And, he wrote, “the collateral consequences to Ms. Quinonez have been severe,” including internet infamy.

“In fact, a simple Google search for her name shows over 3,000 results, none positive,” Johnson wrote. “YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites have almost endless discussions of her offense. Because of that publicity, she can never put this case fully behind her.”

Quinonez was free on bond following her December guilty plea but went back into custody after she was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving in January.

The FAA says investigations into unruly passenger behavior spiked in 2021. In the decade prior, the agency investigated roughly 100 to 200 cases a year. Last year, it launched just shy of 1,100 investigations.

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Aside from launching formal investigations, the agency grappled with thousands of complaints of bad behavior last year — much of which involved plane passengers refusing to follow federal mask mandates.

The numbers remain high during the first five months of this year, at least 470 such investigations.

Last year, the FAA proposed $5 million in fines against unruly passengers.

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