A woman who admitted punching a Southwest Airlines crewmember so severely that the bloodied flight attendant required significant dental work to repair three of her teeth has been sentenced to 15 months in federal custody, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Friday.
Vyvianna M. Quinonez, now 29, of Sacramento, California, must also serve three years of supervised release, during which she’s required to take anger management courses. She must also pay $25,981.57 in restitution and a $7,500 fine, the DOJ said in a press release. Plus, she’s judicially banned from flying on commercial aircraft during her three-year term of supervision.
Video of the attack on the flight attendant quickly went viral. In it, a woman later identified as Quinonez can be seen repeatedly bashing a flight attendant with a closed fist on Flight 700 between Sacramento and San Diego on May 23, 2021. A much larger male passenger stepped in to protect the flight attendant. The bloodied flight attendant stood behind the passenger and held her face before retreating off camera toward the rear of the aircraft.
“During the flight’s final descent, Quinonez failed to comply with federal rules and regulations,” the DOJ wrote. “She was not wearing her seat belt, pulled her tray table down, and was not wearing her facemask properly. Court documents state that Quinonez failed to comply when a flight attendant instructed her to fasten her seatbelt. A short time later, another flight attendant instructed Quinonez to fasten her seat belt and stow her tray table for her own safety and wear her mask correctly. Quinonez did not comply and talked back to the flight attendant while shouting profanities.”
Quinonez started recording the incident and then lashed out. Other videos recorded by witnesses recorded the attack.
A male passenger who witnessed the melee said Quinonez claimed she fought back in “self-defense” because the flight attendant had allegedly tried to push aside her cell phone. When the male passenger said he told Quinonez it was a “federal offense to attack a flight attendant,” she said, “I don’t give a fuck,” according to a government sentencing memo.
“The flight attendant was taken to the hospital and sustained several injuries,” the DOJ said in a subsequent press release. “Three of the flight attendant’s teeth were chipped, resulting in two teeth later being replaced by crowns. The flight attendant’s left eye was bruised and swollen; she sustained a cut under her left eye, requiring three stitches; and she had a bruise in the shape of fingers on her right forearm. Due to the assault, the flight attendant was not able to perform her normal safety and customer service duties.”
The feds initially asked for a four-month prison term and an additional six months on home confinement, according to the government’s sentencing memo. The feds noted that Quinonez was flying with her aunt and sister when the attack happened.
In a letter to the sentencing judge, a Southwest executive said the high-profile nature of the attack required a stiff penalty:
We train for all sorts of challenging situations. But what happened on Flight 700 was absolutely horrific. In my 20+ year career at Southwest, I have never seen such an inexcusable, violent assault of a Flight Attendant by a Passenger. Even worse, the incident was captured on video and cast across television and media channels.
The video of the assault still sickens me.
This specific Passenger created a situation onboard Flight 700 that jeopardized the entire flight, and created an unsafe environment. During a pandemic where anxiety, fear, and trepidation surrounding travel was already at an all-time high, this Passenger’s actions negatively impacted our workgroup beyond description. In a world of social media and instant news, this issue was exacerbated even further—causing fear to come permanently into the workplace because of how this behavior from our Passengers was seemingly escalating, both in severity and frequency.
It deeply impacted our Employees, and our executive team heard from countless Flight Attendants that were genuinely shaken by the incident and felt “under attack.”
Given the widespread news coverage of this incident, 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.
The victimized flight attendant wrote separately to the court. She said her job was a “dream come true” but that she’s been severely affected by what happened:
[N]ever in my career have I feared for my life or the people’s lives that were in my care. This was the first time something like this has happened on a flight I have worked. We all hear the stories of incidents on flights, including the awful, historical event of 9/11. After 9/11, rules and procedures were put in place to protect us. We all practice those same procedures every day to remain safe. I fear for my health and safety now more than ever.
This incident caught me completely off guard. It was absolutely terrifying. As Flight Attendants, we are trained to help keep all passengers safe – and never would I have imagined that a passenger would physically assault a Crewmember in such a vicious way. That is completely unacceptable and, with that, I hope that a sentence in this case sends a message that this type of despicable attack against a Flight Attendant will not be tolerated.
I continue to pray for the physical and mental healing for my fellow Co-Hearts that were involved in this horrific event and pray things will get better for all airline employees.
Defense attorneys asked for a sentence of time served. They pointed to Quinonez’s “kind, gentle, and extremely loving” character and bemoaned that the publicity the attack generated meant that she “can never put this case fully behind her.”
While the airline assault case was pending, Quinonez was released from custody. However, she was arrested in an alleged drunk driving incident while out on bond. As Law&Crime reported in March, she tried to use an alleged “gastric bypass surgery” as an excuse:
California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers observed the black Chevrolet Camaro Defendant was driving weaving and Defendant swerved to the right almost striking the concrete curb. After pulling Defendant over, the officers observed Defendant had red and watery eyes. Defendant claimed she had been on her phone arguing with her boyfriend. Officers smelled a strong odor of alcohol and asked Defendant how much she had to drink. Defendant stated she had a couple of drinks. Officers noted that Defendant’s speech was slurred.
[ . . . ]
Further, it appears that Defendant is not willing to accept responsibility for her actions. She claims that her high blood alcohol level is due to gastric bypass surgery. However, Defendant told pretrial services that her doctor informed her that “if she drinks alcohol, her blood alcohol concentration may rise abnormally due to the small size of her stomach.” Given this warning by her doctor, Defendant should have been especially careful about the possibility of driving while intoxicated. Yet, she showed a disregard for others on the road when she chose to drink and drive.
Because of that incident, a judge ordered Quinonez to “remain in custody pending sentencing in this matter.”
The defendant tried to persuade the judge from her jail cell. A hand-written note reads, in part, as follows:
This past year has been the most challenging year I’ve ever had. I’m currently writing this letter while in a federal detention facility & it still feels unreal that I put myself in this position by the mistakes I made which I completely blame myself & I take full responsibility of my actions. Not only was I facing federal charges, & never being in trouble with the law before, my mistakes were broadcasted nationwide news and I have been completely disappointed and ashamed of myself. I wanted to sincerely apologize to the flight attendant and for those who I impacted in a negative manner. I also wanted to apologize to the flight attendant’s loved ones as well because I’ve seen how my mistakes had impacted my family as well.
The full letter and some of the sentencing portions of the case file are below:
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