Sacramento woman who punched flight attendant over mask protocol pleads guilty

'It's inexcusable for anyone to use violence on an airplane for any reason,' said Randy Grossman, federal prosecutor on the case


                            Sacramento woman who punched flight attendant over mask protocol pleads guilty
Screengrabs of Vyvianna Quinonez in an altercation with a flight attendant (Sam Sweeney/Twitter)

In an incident that took place on May 23, Sacramento woman who punched a flight attendant during an argument in the flight, breaking her teeth, has pleaded guilty to a federal charge on Wednesday December 22. The argument happened when the flight began its descent into Sacramento and it was over wearing mask and following air safety requirements. 

The US attorney's office in a statement said : "Vyvianna Quinonez, a 28 year old initially claimed that she was acting in self-defense, before accepting the federal charge of  "interference" of a flight." On May 23, Quinonez was on Southwest Airlines flight from Sacramento to San Diego, when a flight attendant requested her to fasten her seatbelt, stow her tray table and wear her mask properly to cover her nose and mouth. Instead of following the flight attendant's instructions about her mask, Quinonez started recording the video, pushed the flight attendant and then began "punching her in the face and head with a closed fist and grabbing her hair." 

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The plea agreement states that the flight attendant suffered bruises and three chipped teeth, two of which needed crowns and a cut under her left eye that needed stitches. As per the court documents, the woman told police officers who came aboard to arrest her that she acted in self-defense. Her statement was rebutted as the assault was recorded on another passenger's cellphone. 

A Southwest Airlines jet lands at Midway International Airport on January 28, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois (Scott Olson/Getty Images)             

Randy Grossman, the federal prosecutor said, "The flight attendant who was assaulted was simply doing her job to ensure the safety of all passengers aboard the plane" adding, "It's inexcusable for anyone to use violence on an airplane for any reason."

Usually, federal charge carries maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. However, prosecutors intend to ask for a jail sentence of four months plus six months of house arrest, $20,000 restitution to the victim, 3 year flight ban and a fine of $5000. In response to the judgment, Southwest Airlines issued a statement saying that, "We appreciate the efforts of federal and local authorities working to bring this case to justice". The statement also said, "We have zero tolerance policy when it comes to physical or verbal abuse against our Employees."

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, incidents fueled by individual's refusal to wear a mask have risen sharply in the United States. According to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), more than 5,664 incidents of unruly passengers were reported in 2021 alone and more than 4,000 were mask-related.