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Did the Olympics Accidentally Cause Airport Panic at JFK?

If you didn’t believe the old adage that fear is contagious, the details of this weekend’s false-alarm evacuation of JFK Airport might change your mind. According to a New Yorker reporter who experienced the incident, unfounded reports of gunfire at New York City’s busiest air hub caused stampedes and panic that spread rapidly across terminals Sunday night.

The false alarm grounded flights, amassed crowds, and led to an evacuation as police searched for a gunman or signs of shots fired, the Associated Press reported. Terrifying video of travelers running for cover while special-ops teams charged in with guns drawn emerged online.

The culprit, some say, might have been Olympic celebrations that rang out inside one of the terminals. Police received the report of shots fired—which ultimately couldn’t be confirmed—immediately following Usain Bolt’s record-breaking 100-meter race victory that aired at primetime that night.

Some departing passengers were reportedly clapping and cheering at the race. The New Yorker reporter, David Wallace-Welles, said stampeding crowds also made loud, startling noises by knocking over the heavy metal poles that string the airport’s line dividers.

This incident says a lot about the state of air travel today. All it took was a few people hearing some loud noises or clapping to trigger a panic—and who can blame them in light of recent attacks overseas and in airports?

JFK isn’t alone in this false alarm. Unfounded scares and lockdowns often punctuate the news cycles that follow attacks—from recent terror scares at Brussels Airport, just months after a suicide bombing attack there killed 31, to panic across the city of Paris in the wake of last year’s Bataclan massacre.

Each unfounded instance can only be met with a collective sigh of relief that there was, in fact, no tragedy.

Gun violence in America is something that other countries are warning their U.S.-bound citizens about. Thankfully, this JFK scare won’t be a statistic to fuel that advice.

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Associate Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for more insight and adventure.

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