The flight attendant was taken to the hospital after landing. Three of her teeth were chipped, including two that had to be replaced by crowns, prosecutors say. Her left eye was bruised and swollen, and a cut under her eye required four stitches. On her right forearm was a finger-shaped bruise.
Quinonez, 28 at the time of the incident, has now been charged with two federal felonies: assault resulting in serious injury and interference with a flight’s crew members and attendants. The first charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, while the second is punishable by as many as 20.
Quinonez has been ordered to appear before a judge on Sept. 17, according to court documents. She initially told authorities she acted in self-defense, the complaint states.
“We’ll go forward with the case and see what happens,” Quinonez’s attorney, Knut Johnson, told The Washington Post, declining to comment further.
The Antelope, Calif., woman is also facing charges in state court, a San Diego County district attorney spokesperson told the Associated Press. Immediately after the incident in May, the Port of San Diego Harbor Police Department arrested Quinonez and booked her on a felony battery charge. She is scheduled to appear in state court on Sept. 10, the AP reported.
The charges against Quinonez represent the latest criminal prosecution against disruptive airline passengers. In July, a 27-year-old California man was charged with interfering with a flight crew after accusing a flight attendant of carrying explosive components, trying to wrestle a bag away from him and running down the center aisle. A month earlier, a man from Mexico was federally charged for jumping off an airplane as it was preparing to take off at Los Angeles International Airport.
Passengers have become more unruly during the pandemic. The Federal Aviation Administration has received 3,889 complaints of uncooperative passengers since Jan. 1. Approximately 2,867 involved passengers who would not comply with the federal mask mandate, the FAA said in August.
The agency has imposed fines on dozens of passengers, which have totaled more than $1 million, officials announced last month. But the FAA can only impose fines, and criminal penalties brought by federal prosecutors remain rare, Bloomberg News reported. Federal charges were filed in 16 cases in the year ending Oct. 1, 2020, according to the news outlet, and 20 the year before.
As reports of bad behavior have increased, a coalition of airline industry groups has called on the Justice Department to more aggressively prosecute unruly passengers.
The May 23 incident involving Quinonez began after the flight attendant reminded her of the landing rules, according to the complaint. When the flight attendant returned to her jump seat, Quinonez allegedly started to film the Southwest employee.
Shortly after the plane landed, the flight attendant again approached Quinonez. That is when Quinonez attacked her, prosecutors allege.
The incident was caught on video by another passenger. It shows a Southwest Airlines flight attendant speaking with Quinonez in the back row of an airplane. Quinonez suddenly sprang up and started punching the flight attendant with both hands. After another passenger intervened, Quinonez sat down and stopped, as the flight attendant stood back with blood dripping down her face. Quinonez appeared to say the flight attendant attacked her first.
“Sit down,” the intervening passenger yelled. “Don’t you dare touch a flight attendant like that!”