Southwest flight attendant loses 2 teeth after altercation with passenger

SAN DIEGO — A California woman is accused of attacking a Southwest Airlines flight attendant during a flight Sunday, causing the employee to lose two teeth and suffer facial injuries, authorities said.

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Vyvianna Quinonez, 28, of Antelope, was charged with felony battery after the incident, which occurred on a flight from Sacramento to San Diego, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The incident continued a pattern of unruly behavior by airline passengers and prompted the president of the flight attendants’ union to seek more federal marshals on flights, according to The Associated Press.

“We are asking our carrier, the government and the flying public’s help in ending this epidemic of aggression and assault,” Transport Workers Union Local 556 President Lyn Montgomery said in a statement to CNN. “Flight attendants are first responders in the sky who are focused on safety. As people return to the skies, we are asking for everyone’s help in complying with flight attendant requests to help ensure a safe and fun atmosphere for all.”

Montgomery added there were 477 instances of “misconduct” on Southwest flights this year between April 8 and May 15. The incidents were reported in an open letter to Southwest CEO and Chairman Gary Kelly that was sent to union members and posted on its Facebook page, CNN reported.

Authorities were alerted just before 9 a.m. PDT about a disturbance on the flight, according to a news release from the Port of San Diego, whose Harbor Police Department handles law enforcement at San Diego International Airport.

Harbor police met the plane at the gate, the Union-Tribune reported. Witnesses told authorities that Quinonez struck the attendant, who has not been identified, during the flight.

The flight attendant sustained serious injuries, and paramedics took the woman to a hospital in San Diego, the newspaper reported.

“The passenger repeatedly ignored standard in-flight instructions ... and became verbally and physically abusive upon landing,” Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz told The Sacramento Bee in an email.

Southwest flew a friend to San Diego to be with the flight attendant, according to the AP.

San Diego resident Michelle Manner, who recorded the video from two rows in front of the altercation, told KSWB that the flight attendant provoked the incident.

“Vyvianna had said to her three times that we could hear, ‘get off of me,’ ‘quit touching me,’ ‘get your hands off of me,” Manner told the television station.

Manner told KSWB that the flight attendant had told Quinonez to put on her face covering, which is required on Southwest flights. Manner said the mask may have fallen below Quinonez’s nose and had sparked an initial confrontation. Manner began filming when the passenger and flight attendant had a second confrontation.

“It was so unnecessary,” Manner told the television station. “In the first altercation, she had said she was going to call the captain. She should have just stayed there in her back cubby.”

However, Mainz said in a follow-up email to The Bee that “reports indicate it was over instructions for putting the tray table up, fastening (her) seat belt, etc. Not mask-related.”

A passenger who witnessed the altercation posted video of the aftermath in a public Facebook post.

“As we are pulling up to the gate, a woman in the back row took off her seat belt and stood up,” Susan Marie Stidham wrote. “The flight attendant told her to keep her seat belt fastened while we were still moving. What I saw was the flight attendant in the front suddenly start screaming ‘No, No, No! Stop!’ and running toward the back.”

It is unclear whether Quinonez will face federal charges including interfering with a flight attendant, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, The Bee reported.