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2 airlines will postpone serving alcohol amid surge of in-flight violence

A passenger on a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 flight as it prepared to land at Houston's Hobby airport March 20, 2021.Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Two major airlines, American and Southwest, have postponed plans to resume serving alcohol on flights in an effort to stop a surge of unruly and sometimes violent behavior by passengers who have shoved, struck and yelled at flight attendants.

Both airlines announced the policies this past week after the latest assault was captured on a widely watched video that showed a woman punching a flight attendant in the face on a Southwest Airlines flight from Sacramento, California, to San Diego this past Sunday.

The flight attendant lost two teeth in the assault, according to her union, and the passenger, who was identified by the police as Vyvianna Quinonez, 28, has been charged with battery causing serious bodily injury. She has also been barred for life from flying Southwest, the airline said.

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It was not immediately clear if Quinonez had a lawyer, and she did not respond Saturday to messages left at a number listed under her name.

Since Jan. 1, the Federal Aviation Administration has received about 2,500 reports of unruly behavior by passengers, including about 1,900 reports of passengers refusing to comply with a federal mandate that they wear masks on planes.

Southwest Airlines issued a statement Friday citing the “recent uptick industrywide of incidents in flight involving disruptive passengers” as it announced that it had paused plans to resume serving alcohol on flights.

“We realize this decision will be disappointing for some customers, but we feel it to be the right decision now in the interest of safety and comfort of all onboard,” the statement said.

American Airlines announced a similar policy Saturday.

It said that alcohol sales, which had been suspended in the main cabin since late March 2020, would remain suspended through Sept. 13, when a federal mandate requiring passengers to wear masks on airplanes, buses and trains is set to expire.

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In a memo, American said it recognized that “alcohol can contribute to atypical behavior from customers onboard and we owe it to our crew not to potentially exacerbate what can already be a new and stressful situation for our customers.”

American said that alcohol would continue to be served in first class and business class, but only during the flight and not before departure.