Two Men Accuse Airline Worker of Racial Profiling after Newark Airport Evacuated

Two men alleged they were racially profiled after an alarm was set off at Newark Liberty Airport on Labor Day, causing mass panic.

The Newark, New Jersey airport evacuated when an Alaska Airlines employee hit an alarm and instructed travelers inside the terminal to evacuate, CNN reported. The news station first reported that when the female airline employee approached the two men she believed were acting suspiciously, the two men ran away.

However, Han Han Xue, 29, a product designer for Lyft, told BuzzFeed News he believes he and Chunyi Luo, 20, were racially profiled. Xue told the publication that he was returning home to San Francisco after visiting some friends in New York City during Labor Day weekend when the Alaska Airlines employee approached him.

Xue, who was born in China but grew up in Canada, told the news outlet he was “minding [his] own business” when the employee walked into him from behind and then approached Luo a few minutes later. The 20-year-old, who is from Shanghai and moved to San Francisco to study finance, told the airline employee he was nervous because the flight was delayed. She reportedly told him that late flights are common in the US but she stood so close to him that he stepped away.

The airline worker then began to ask Xue questions, such as if he knew Luo and why he was “acting suspiciously,” BuzzFeed News reported. Then she asked Xue even stranger questions, like “How much are they paying you?”; “Did they give you a visa?”; and “Did they give your family a visa?” Xue told the publication he felt like he was being racially profiled and harassed, so he moved six feet away from her to join the other passengers who were boarding the flight. The airline worker then followed him and told him “I'm onto you guys. The cops are already called."

"I couldn’t believe this was happening," Xue told BuzzFeed News.

Xue told the news outlet he watched the employee walk into the airplane and then begin speaking with the gate agents. A gate agent announced there would be a delay with boarding, but the Alaska Airlines employee then yelled, “Evacuate! Evacuate!” and hit the emergency alarm.

"The moment it happened is really hard to describe," Xue told BuzzFeed News.

"Everybody started running. It was the most insane scene I've ever been in or ever seen."

A video taken by David Lombardi, a sportswriter for TheAthletic.com who was at the airport, shows people running away from the terminal, causing a scene of “confusion and chaos.” Xue told BuzzFeed News he ran from the terminal with the crowd.

“Insane situation here at Newark Airport. They just told us all to evacuate and whole terminal scattered. Bags left behind. I initially thought it was an active shooter. Maybe a bomb threat. Confusion and chaos,” Lombardi wrote on Twitter.

Luo told BuzzFeed News he thought there was a shooter and like Xue, followed the crowd and ran. Xue said when police arrived, he approached them and said he may have had something to do with the incident even though he did nothing wrong. He approached one of the officers and told them an Alaska Airlines employee had informed him she was calling the police, according to the news outlet. Officers also found Luo and began questioning both of them, asking the two, "Why do you think she thought you were suspicious?" Xue said he wasn’t sure “other than the fact we are both East Asian.”

While they were being questioned, Xue told the publication the Alaska Airlines employee came out of the jetway, looked toward the area where the two men were speaking with the officers and yelled “We got them motherf—.”

Once police realized this was a misunderstanding, Luo and Xue were released and all passengers affected by the incident were rescreened through security, BuzzFeed News reported. The two waited several hours for their flight to San Francisco, but it was canceled and rescheduled for the next day. Passengers on the flight were placed at a nearby hotel where Xue and Luo met to share their stories.

The North Star has reached out to Alaska Airlines but did not hear back in time for publication. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, the airline apologized for the incident and said an investigation is underway.

"We are conducting a thorough investigation of the incident and gathering witness statements to understand what exactly took place and why this happened," spokesperson Oriana Branon wrote in an email to the publication.


About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.