By Neal Putnam
A woman who angrily slugged a flight attendant after being told to wear her mask properly pleaded guilty Dec. 22 to interfering with a Southwest Airlines flight as it was about to land in San Diego.
Vyvianna M. Quinonez, 28, of Antelope, Ca., appeared before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Mitchell Dembin, who set sentencing for March 11, 2022.
The U.S. Attorney’s office said they would recommend a 4-month prison term plus six months of house arrest, though the maximum sentence is 20 years in federal prison. The judge can impose a longer sentence than what the U.S. Attorney recommends.
The attendant, identified only as S.L., was bloodied after being struck with a closed fist and two teeth were chipped that had to be fixed with dental crowns. She received three stitches to her face in a hospital emergency room.
A passenger of flight 700 videotaped the encounter that showed Quinonez punching S.L. and pulling her hair on May 23. Video of the 44-second encounter was played on numerous TV newscasts all over the U.S.
Before the incident occurred, S.L. told Quinonez to wear her face mask over her nose, to fasten her seat belt, and to put her tray table back since they were about to land, according to facts laid out by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaclyn Stahl.
Quinonez will be ordered to pay $20,000 in restitution to the victim for medical expenses and lost wages, said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman, who met with reporters afterwards.
She will be ordered to take anger management classes as a condition of three years probation plus performing 250 hours of community service per year, according to the plea agreement.
Quinonez will continue to be banned from flying on an airplane for three years and she is expected to be fined $5,000.
She remains free on $20,000 bond. Because she cannot take an airplane, she has to travel by train or car from her Northern California home to San Diego.
“The flight attendant who was assaulted was simply doing her job to ensure the safety of all passengers aboard the plane,” said Grossman.
“It’s inexcusable for anyone to use violence on an airplane for any reason, particularly toward a flight attendant who is there to keep all the passengers safe,” said Grossman, who added “there are serious consequences” for those who injure flight crews.
Stahl read into the record in court all the duties that S.L. could not do because she had to go to the hospital after the incident. An assault charge will be dismissed at sentencing.
“The FBI is committed to keeping air travel safe from threats which come in a variety of forms,” said FBI special agent in charge Suzanne Turner.
“Assaulting and interfering with flight crews will not be tolerated and the FBI will continue to work with our local, state and federal partners to diligently investigate and prosecute crimes such as these,” said Turner.
— Neal Putnam is a local court reporter.