Guido Menzio, an Italian-born professor of economics at the University of Pennsylvania, was pulled off of his American Airlines flight from Philadelphia to Syracuse when a passenger sitting next to him reported his “suspicious behavior” to flight attendants.
The writings that the nervous passenger mistook for some type of terrorist code or foreign alphabet was in actuality a series of differential equations.
A woman sitting next to Menzio attempted to chat with him as the plane waited to be cleared for takeoff. Menzio, however, was not keen on making small talk as he was intensely focused on working out the mathematical equations. The woman expressed to a flight attendant that she was feeling too ill to fly and asked to be let off the plane. Apparently she also communicated her concerns about Menzio’s writings to the airplane staff because once the woman had left, Menzio was asked to get off the plane “by some FBI looking man-in-black”
“I thought they were trying to get clues about her illness,” he told The Associated Press in an email. “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.”
The flight was supposed to leave around 7:30 but ended up being delayed by a total of two hours. Menzio was later permitted to get back on the plane and proceed to Syracuse. The woman who reported him was not there when he got back on the plane.
Menzio later insisted that he suffered no ill treatment at the hands of the airport staff, but added that “Not seeking additional information after reports of ‘suspicious activity’ … is going to create a lot of problems, especially as xenophobic attitudes may be emerging.”