Two Chinese men say they were racially profiled by an Alaska Airlines employee who screamed “Evacuate! Evacuate!” and set off an emergency alarm causing mass chaos as terrified travelers fled a Newark Liberty Airport terminal on Labor Day.
According to a Buzzfeed News story, Han Han Xue and Chunyi Luo, the former a designer for Lyft working in San Francisco and the latter a college student in the Bay Area, both Chinese-born, were “racially targeted and harassed” by the employee.
It was first reported by CNN that a source said the employee deemed the two men as being suspicious, questioned them and they ran. They did not run, they said. They claim she profiled them, interrogated them, and then screamed for people to evacuate as she engaged an emergency alarm.
Xue told Buzzfeed he was minding his own business while waiting for the delayed flight. Luo, who was not only not with Xue, the men did not know each other, was also waiting.
When she pulled the alarm, Xue said later, he “could not believe this was happening.”
He said she told them: “I’m onto you guys. The cops are already called.”
Videos and photographs began popping up on social, Twitter in particular from petrified passengers.
The Alaska Airlines employee has not been identified. It was reported she was mentally ill and off her meds.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Terrified on the Tarmac, It Took an Hour For Newark Airport to Tell Travelers There Was no Threat. A Witness Said the Airline Owes Everyone, Especially Xue & Luo ‘Bigtime’
The first sign of trouble came via tweet by NFL writer David Lombardi: “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”
At just around 8:30 p.m. on the busy holiday Monday night, panic ensued with fear of a bomb threat or active shooter sending passengers scrambling, some onto the tarmac.
Soon, came more tweets. Many from confused and afraid passengers in the terminal who had dropped their luggage and made mad dashes for exits on to the tarmac. In all around 200 people had to evacuate.
“Shooting scare at Newark Airport. Police arrived in seconds. We are all outside on the runway. Terrified .
It wasn’t until 9:30 that the airport took to Twitter to inform travelers that there was no threat inside Terminal A3. And announced that all “passengers and employees are being rescreened as a precaution.”
“First of all, just want to let everyone know we are safe at Newark airport but honestly have never been more terrified in my life.”
On the Buzzfeed News Facebook page post on the incident, a person named Rami Reyes wrote:
“I was on this flight. The flight attendant screamed ‘Evacuate’ 3x like she had just seen something horrific. People started running as we all feared for our life and people thought there was an active shooter (all the things getting knocked over likely made it sound like gunshots). Many of us were injured in the stampede (I have a bruised and bloodied knee and there were a few people worse than me). The airline offered no information and has made no admission of what happened. The only thing Alaska Airlines has offered us is a pathetic coupon for our inconvenience (United gave me a better voucher for a delayed flight) and made us all lose our Tuesdays to fly the next day. They owe us all big time, and especially need to make it up to these two young men (who didn’t appear suspicious at all to me and likely not to the police who released them fairly rapidly).”
2. Xue & Luo Were Racially Profiled
According to Luo and Xue’s accounts as reported by Buzzfeed, the uniformed Alaska Airlines employee came up from behind and pushed past Xue and then began to circle “around where he was standing.” She turned her attention to Luo and asked: “Are you scared? Are you nervous?” He told her he was as concerned only that the flight was delayed. He said she was standing far too close to him. She switched back to Xue and asked if the two men knew each. they did not. She asked what their travel plans were and then accused them of being “suspicious.”
Soon, her questions became more enigmatic: “How much are they paying you?” “Did they give you a visa? Did they give your family a visa? Do you make a lot of money? Do you work on Wall Street? Are you on an American visa?” as was reported by Buzzfeed. Luo heard her too and heard her say, “Asian.” Xue said he was racially profiled, and targeted by the woman.
She said: “I’m onto you guys. The cops are already called.”
She walked away, and then spoke to an employee at the gate who announced delay in boarding and then, inexplicably, Xue said the employee yelled for everyone to evacuate and pulled an alarm.
“I couldn’t believe this was happening,” said Xue calling it an “insane scene.”
Xue ran with everyone else.
Xue and Luo were interviewed by police and told them what happened. It took some explaining, but ultimately, police believed them.
Citing sources, the New York CBS affiliate reported the next morning that the “flight attendant is bipolar and had an issue with her medication. Prosecutors said for that reason she would not be charged.”
It was reported that New York New Jersey Port Authority police spoke to the Alaska Airlines employee at the center of the incident and let her go.
3. A Family Member Said Alaska Airlines Has Not ‘Apologized Fully’ for Racially Profiling & Targeting the Men
A woman named Amy Hawkins said her cousin was one of the men profiled. She does not say which man she is related to, Xue or Luo.
“The whole situation sounds absurd and so stressful, who everyone who thought they were “about to be shot in the back” and for my cousin and the other Chinese man who were targeted purely because of their race. The @AlaskaAir employee asked questions suggesting she thought they were spies. Don’t know if it was rogue incident or sign of greater hostility towards Chinese people in Trumps Trade War America, but I do know that it is so, so tiring and humiliating to be treated like this,” she tweeted in a brief thread Friday.
“Talking to my cousin, he made the point that too often the “model minority” trope means that East Asian people don’t make a fuss when they’re the victims of racism. And Chinese diaspora person knows what I’m talking about (and I’m sure lots of other minorities too). And it’s exhausting and stressful to speak out. But @AlaskaAir has not apologized fully, and if ethnically Chinese people (regardless of citizenship!!) are being treated with even more hostility in today’s America, it needs to be called out.”
4. Xue is a Product Designer at Lyft & Luo Has Been Studying Finance in San Francisco For 2 Years
Xue was born in China and grew up in Montreal, Canada. He speaks three languages. He’s a graduate of McGill University and has two degrees; a B.Sc. and an M.Arch., a master’s degree in architecture, he earned both in four years.
Xue is a designer and FX technical director.
According to his LinkedIn, he works as a designer for Lyft’s self-driving division.
Less is known about Luo save that according to Buzzfeed, he’s 20, from Shanghai, and has for the past two years, been studying finance in a San Francisco college or university.
5. While Alaska Airlines Said it was Sorry, People Have Strong Reactions to the Incident
An Alaska Airlines spokesperson told Buzzfeed, “We understand the Newark issue was alarming and distressing for our guests and other flyers, and for that we are deeply sorry. We are conducting a thorough investigation of the incident and gathering witness statements to understand what exactly took place and why this happened.”
People tweeting to Alaska Airlines were upset initially because of the chaos and delays.
But no one was having a bipolar diagnosis and failure to medicate as an excuse.
“The crowd thought it was a shooter. The racist (probably MAGAT) Alaska Airlines employee hit the panic button.”
“Yeah, she’s bipolar. Bipolar disorder doesn’t make you think the mere presence of two Asian guys is suspicious. Only racism can do that.”
“Holy shit this is wild. An Alaska Airlines employee suspected two unrelated East Asian men of being “up to something” and escalated to the point of ordering an evacuation, which caused a huge panic, police presence, flight delays and cancellations….Racism is WILD.”