A Southwest Airlines flight attendant was assaulted by a passenger over the weekend and lost two teeth, according to a letter the flight attendants union sent to the airline’s CEO Monday in an appeal for more safeguards as travel rebounds.
“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 being abused in such a manner, and because I am asking for your help and leadership in ending these travesties.”
The union said there were 477 passenger-misconduct incidents on Southwest between April 8 and May 15.
“This unprecedented number of incidents has reached an intolerable level, with passenger noncompliance events also becoming more aggressive in nature,” Montgomery said.
Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz confirmed that a passenger physically assaulted a flight attendant when Southwest Flight 700 from Sacramento to San Diego, California, landed Sunday morning.
“The passenger repeatedly ignored standard inflight instructions and became verbally and physically abusive upon landing,” Mainz said via email in response to questions from USA TODAY. “Law enforcement officials were requested to meet the flight upon arrival, and the passenger was taken into custody. We do not condone or tolerate verbal or physical abuse of our flight crews, who are responsible for the safety of our passengers. ”
The Port of San Diego Harbor Police Department late Tuesday identified the passenger as 28-year-old Vyvianna Quinonez and said she was charged with battery causing serious bodily injury, a felony.
In a statement, the department said it received a call at 8:55 a.m. Sunday about a “disturbance” on an inbound Southwest flight. Police officers met the aircraft at the gate.
“According to witnesses, an altercation between a passenger and a flight attendant had taken place during the flight. During the altercation, the passenger struck the flight attendant, causing serious injuries,” the statement said.
Paramedics from the San Diego Fire Department transported the unnamed flight attendant to Scripps Memorial Hospital and arrested Quinonez. She was booked into Las Colinas Detention Facility, a detention center for women. Online records do not show her as a current inmate.
In its letter to Southwest’s CEO, the TWU said it was seeking several safeguards from Southwest to prevent further incidents.
“Today’s traveling environment requires a new level of firmness in both tone and direction to ensure proper control in the cabin of our aircraft as the attitudes and behaviors of the flying public have, unfortunately, declined,” Montgomery said in the letter.
She said Southwest flight attendants are doing everything they can to ensure compliance with mask rules and other inflight policies but need the support of management when they call out passengers’ unruly behavior: “Oftentimes, appropriate actions to maintain a safe environment have been misconstrued as being unkind or inhospitable. As alcohol sales are added back into this already volatile environment, you can surely understand our concern.”
In the letter, the union proposes that Southwest:
♦ Better inform passengers that misbehaving could land them on Southwest’s restricted travelers list and result in potential fines, criminal charges and possible imprisonment: “The flying public needs to understand that egregious behavior will result in being banned from flying with Southwest Airlines.”
♦ Be consistent in policies: “No passenger should be removed from one flight only to be permitted to board the very next Southwest Airlines flight after a noncompliance incident. We ask that you take a strong stance to ensure that unruly passengers are not welcome to travel with us. Period. Full stop.”
♦ Demand the U.S. government increase the number of federal air marshals on flights and request that they “get involved and take action” when crew members are threatened.
The FAA has taken notice of a spike in passengers behaving badly, adopting a zero-tolerance policy in January and extending it in March so it’s in place throughout the pandemic.
Since Jan. 1, the agency said it had received approximately 2,500 reports of unruly behavior by passengers, including about 1,900 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal face mask mandate.
The agency has proposed hundreds of thousands of fines, including $258,250 in May.
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Airlines have added travelers to internal do-not-fly lists, but Southwest hasn’t released figures on how many passengers it has put on the list this year.