By Neal Putnam
A passenger who slugged a flight attendant just as the plane was landing in San Diego was sentenced May 27 to 15 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $25,981 in restitution and medical expenses for her outburst over wearing a mask properly.
U.S. District Court Judge Todd Robinson increased the sentence for Vyvianna M. Quinonez, 29, of Antelope, Ca., that had been recommended by the U.S. Attorney’s office, and by Quinonez’s attorney, Knut Johnson.
Quinonez, wearing an orange jumpsuit and a white mask, was escorted into court by U.S. marshals because her $20,000 bond had been revoked after she was cited for drunk driving in January.
Robinson reminded her the drunk driving incident in northern California occurred only nine days after she pleaded guilty before him on Dec. 22 to interfering with a Southwest Airlines flight attendant when she slugged her with a closed fist and pulled her hair. She lost her freedom because she had not remained crime free while out on bond.
The initial incident took place on May 23, 2021, after a flight attendant told Quinonez to wear her mask over her nose, to fasten her seat belt, and to stow her tray table. As the plane was touching down, Quinonez punched the flight attendant, which was captured in a 44-second video by another passenger who placed it online.
The flight attendant told the judge “this incident caught me completely off guard” and “was absolutely terrifying.” She told Robinson she had to pay for two crowns for her damaged teeth “out of my own pocket.”
The flight attendant said she had a scar under her eye. She said she had sought therapy. A lot of the restitution, which Quinonez’s family has agreed to pay, will go to the flight attendant, as she was off work for several months.
Robinson also fined her $7,500. When she is released from prison, Quinonez will be on supervised release for three years under the conditions that she attend anger management classes and that she not be a passenger on an airline.
Robinson said it was important to deter others from this type of conduct aboard airplanes. He said many flight attendants now go to work “with a different mindset” following news of similar incidents on planes.
A representative of Southwest Airlines told the judge that Quinonez’s behavior “put our entire flight at risk.” Because the injured flight attendant had to go to a hospital, Southwest Airlines had to get someone to take her place immediately, according to records.
“I want to apologize to the flight attendant,” said Quinonez. “The way the media portrayed me—that is not me.”
“I’ve seen how my mistakes impacted my family. I’ve learned, I’ve matured, I’ve learned my lesson,” said Quinonez. “I wish I kept my composure. I’ve changed for the better.”
Her parents, siblings, and other family members listened to the sentence in the audience.
“She admitted to her family she screwed up,” said her attorney, Knut Johnson. “She knew it was the wrong thing to do. She knows she can never again act as she did in that short sliver of time.”
Johnson said Quinonez expressed pride in how she has refused to fight other inmates in prison. “She is extremely remorseful for the wrong things she did,” stated a letter writer to the judge, which was read in court by Johnson.
Johnson asked for credit for time served and for immediate release, noting the DUI case in northern California is pending. He said she earned several certificates in completion of Bible studies.
Her attorney said she has received “no favorable attention” from media as well as “threats on her phone.”
“This sentence is justice for the victim,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaclyn Stahl afterwards. “This behavior was reprehensible.”
The prosecution had asked for a 4-month prison term and a 6-month house arrest to follow for Quinonez. They also asked for 250 hours for community service, but the judge said he didn’t want to impose that because of the longer prison sentence. Southwest Airlines has banned her for life from flying on their airline.