When a Southwest Airlines flight attendant asked a passenger in the last row to prepare for landing on Sunday, the woman leapt to her feet, video shows.
Then Vyvianna Quinonez, 28, punched the flight attendant's face, video-captured by another passenger and obtained by the Sacramento Bee shows. Eventually, another passenger jumped in to stop the attack.
"Sit down!" yelled the man, who stood between Quinonez and the flight attendant, whose face was bleeding. "Don't you dare touch a flight attendant like that."
The assault caused the flight attendant to lose two teeth and suffer injuries to her face, The Washington Post's Hannah Sampson reported earlier this week.
Quinonez, who was escorted out of the plane by police once it landed at San Diego International Airport, was arrested for battery, the Port of San Diego Harbor Police said in a statement.
Quinonez did not immediately respond to a message from The Post by early Friday.
The incident is the latest case of a passenger attacking a crew member midair, a trend that has escalated during the pandemic as airline staffers are charged with enforcing mask-wearing during flights.
During one recent flight, a passenger called a flight attendant a "Nazi" for requiring a face mask. In August, a passenger on a SkyWest Airlines flight to Chicago who removed a mask "grabbed a flight attendant's buttock as she walked by the passenger's row of seats," according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which is seeking a $7 500 fine.
In a letter to Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly, the president of Transport Workers Union Local 556, the union for Southwest flight attendants, wrote that the Sunday incident was not isolated. There were 477 cases of passenger misconduct on the airline between April 8 and May 15.
"This unprecedented number of incidents has reached an intolerable level, with passenger non-compliance events also becoming more aggressive in nature," Lyn Montgomery wrote.
Southwest is not the only airline with an increase in such incidents. Earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Administration said the agency was reviewing 1 300 reports of "unruly behaviour" since February. (In the whole previous decade, the agency has initiated just 1 300 similar cases.)
It is still unclear precisely what caused Quinonez to throw punches at the flight attendant during the flight from Sacramento to San Diego.
Chris Mainz, a Southwest Airlines spokesman, told the Bee that Quinonez "repeatedly ignored standard in-flight instructions… and became verbally and physically abusive upon landing." Mainz said an argument that took place before the alleged attack was "not mask-related."
But Michelle Manner, the passenger who recorded the altercation, told the newspaper that Quinonez initially clashed with the flight attendant after she was told that she was not properly wearing her mask. Manner said she did not record their previous arguments, which lasted almost the entire flight. Video of the alleged attack shows Quinonez's mask not fully covering her nose.
In an interview with KTXL, Manner blamed the flight attendant for starting the fight, calling her "rude" and "unprofessional" as she told Quinonez and her group to put their masks above their noses.
"It was so unnecessary," Manner told KTXL. "In the first altercation, she had said that she was going to call the captain. And she should've just stayed there in her back cubby. But she came back out screaming at them again."
The video shows an unidentified woman next to Quinonez pointing her finger at the flight attendant and screaming, "We are gonna sue you!" Suddenly, Quinonez stood up and threw a jab at the flight attendant's face.
She continued throwing punches and trying to pull the flight attendant's hair until another passenger stopped her, the video shows. Quinonez eventually sat down, while the flight attendant, with blood streaming down her cheeks, walked to the end of the plane.
"It was all bad," Manner told the Bee. "It was a very shaking experience."
Taro Arai, the owner of a Sacramento restaurant who was also aboard the plane, told CBS13 that he heard some commotion before he turned around and witnessed Quinonez punching the flight attendant.
"She was so strong she could knock me out," Arai told the station. Pictures taken by Tarai show the flight attendant standing by the lavatory, feet away from Quinonez, as she waited for police to escort the passenger from the plane after they landed.
Quinonez, who was not handcuffed, was the first passenger to exit the plane accompanied by police, another video captured by a passenger posted to Facebook shows. Photos show paramedics from the San Diego Fire Department moving the flight attendant from the gate on a wheelchair. She was later taken to Scripps Memorial Hospital to treat her "serious injuries," police said.
In a email to The Post earlier this week, Mainz, the Southwest spokesman, condemned the attack.
"We do not condone or tolerate verbal or physical abuse of our flight crews, who are responsible for the safety of our passengers," Mainz said. The airline told USA Today Quinonez has been permanently barred from flying Southwest.
Quinonez was booked into the Las Colinas Detention Facility, police said. She was later released after paying a $35,000 bond, KFMB reported. It is unclear whether she has retained an attorney.
As of Friday morning, neither San Diego Superior Court nor federal court records showed Quinonez facing criminal charges.
The Washington Post