Southwest Airlines bans passenger who seriously assaulted flight attendant

Southwest Airlines has permanently banned the 28-year-old passenger accused of striking a flight attendant on a Sacramento, California, to San Diego flight Sunday. The flight attendant’s union said she lost two teeth.

Sonya Lacore, Southwest’s vice president of in-flight operations, announced the ban in a memo to flight attendants about the now-viral incident. 

“As we’ve communicated previously, we do have a process to permanently restrict passengers from traveling on Southwest, and please know that the passenger involved in the most recent incident has been advised that she may no longer fly on Southwest Airlines,” Lacore said in the Wednesday memo, a copy of which was obtained by USA TODAY.

The Port of San Diego Harbor Police Department earlier this week identified the passenger as Vyvianna Quinonez and said she was charged with battery causing serious bodily injury, a felony. 

“According to witnesses, an altercation between a passenger and a flight attendant had taken place during the flight,” the police department said in a statement. ”During the altercation, the passenger struck the flight attendant, causing serious injuries.”

One San Diego passenger has since come forward with graphic video of the altercation and said the flight attendant shares the blame for the incident, according to TV reports.

Southwest’s flight attendants union, Transport Workers Union Local 556, was the first to disclose the incident, in a letter to Southwest CEO Gary Kelly Monday, which was first reported by USA TODAY.

“This past weekend, one of our flight attendants was seriously assaulted, resulting in injuries to the face and a loss of two teeth,” Lyn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556 said in the letter. “Unfortunately, this is just one of many occurrences. I write to you today because we cannot tolerate our beloved cohearts (Southwest’s word for co-workers) being abused in such a manner, and because I am asking for your help and leadership in ending these travesties.”

Lacore said in the memo she has been “deeply troubled” by the incident. 

“Please don’t mistake my lack of communication for my lack of work behind the scenes to ensure first and foremost, our flight attendant received immediate aid and ongoing care. I have been in contact with her, and we will continue to provide her the support she needs,” she said. 

“I have also been gathering the necessary information to ensure this incident was appropriately reported — a step that must be taken before I can share accurate information with you all, and it’s important to me that you have the facts. I hope by now that you understand where my focus has been since this occurred and that my heart has been deeply troubled.”

In the letter to Kelly, the flight attendants union appealed for support from the company in the wake of an increasing number of unruly passengers, some of whom get physical with crew members.

Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration have reported a big spike in incidents, many of them tied to mask compliance. The FAA has adopted a zero-tolerance policy, and ahead of the summer travel season, officials this week reiterated that passengers behaving badly will suffer stiff consequences.

“We’re addressing it quite forcefully,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayokas said at a news conference Tuesday.  “We’re not going to tolerate behavior that threatens the well-being of the public (or) of the employees that bravely are on the front lines to facilitate the travel for individuals who want to reunite with family and friends.”

Mask fights and BYOB breaches: FAA proposes $64,500 in fines against 5 passengers

Despite relaxed mask guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month, masks remain a must on planes and at airports following the recent extension of the federal mask mandate for public transportation.

Lacore said in the memo that the airline is “providing information” to the CDC and the TSA regarding “the impact the mask mandate has both on our employees and our customers.” And she urged the union to do the same, suggesting there may be a behind-the-scenes push by airlines to lift the mandate.

In the meantime, she said Southwest is looking at interim relief measures, including changes in its in-flight announcements to passengers about the strict mask policy. She said the airline is “working quickly” to make adjustments and could have something before Memorial Day travel rush begins. 

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