American Airlines confirmed that an Ivy League economist was interrogated and ethnically profiled after he was seen doing math on a flight.
The company said a woman expressed concerns about Guido Menzio, a University of Pennsylvania economics professor. She apparently thought the equations he was writing could be a sign he was a terrorist, the Guardian reported.
Menzio was flying from Philadelphia to Syracuse on Thursday to give a talk at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada. He was at the time trying to solve a differential equation.
American spokesman Casey Norton said the flight crew followed protocol to take care of an ill passenger and then investigated her allegations. They found them to be non-credible.
Menzio said the incident was “unbelievable,” according to a Facebook post. “The passenger sitting next to me calls the stewardess, passes her a note,” he added.
After he got off the plane, Menzio said he was met by “some FBI looking man-in-black.”
“They ask me about my neighbor,” he wrote. “I tell them I noticed nothing strange. They tell me she thought I was a terrorist because I was writing strange things on a pad of paper. I laugh. I bring them back to the plane. I showed them my math.”
— CNET (@CNET) May 8, 2016
Menzio is Italian and has curly, dark hair.
He said that he “thought they were trying to get clues about her illness,” according to AP. “Instead, they tell me that the woman was concerned that I was a terrorist because I was writing strange things on a pad of paper.”
He then told the Washington Post that he was “treated respectfully” in the interrogation process, but he isn’t pleased with the current system that “relies on the input of people who may be completely clueless.”
American Airlines 3950 arrived in Syracuse at 10:51 p.m., which was far later than its estimated landing time of 8:28 p.m., due to the woman’s profiling, according to FlightStats.com (via the New York Daily News).
“After reviewing the situation, the captain determined the flight should continue. We apologize to our customers for the delay,” a spokesman for the airline told the paper.