University of Pennsylvania economics professor Guido Menzio says that his American Airlines flight was delayed for two hours on May 4 because a female passenger thought his math equations were signs that he was a terrorist.
"I thought [airline officials] were trying to get clues about her illness," Menzio told The Associated Press via 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 woman reportedly had suspicions about Menzio, who was working on an equation for a speech he was scheduled to give at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada. The woman said she was too ill for the Air Wisconsin-operated flight from Philadelphia to Syracuse, New York.
The woman was reportedly seated next to Menzio, and gave a note to a flight attendant. The plane sat on the tarmac for some time and then went back to the gate where Menzio was questioned by airport officials.
Menzio, who is Italian, explained to the officials that he was doing math; Menzio felt the interrogation was unnecessary.
"Not seeking additional information after reports of 'suspicious activity' ... is going to create a lot of problems, especially as xenophobic attitudes may be emerging," Menzio told CBS News.
According to American Airlines spokesman Casey Norton, the flight crew followed protocol for an ill passenger and investigated her allegations, which Norton refused to identify; the woman was rebooked on a later flight.
The Washington Post notes that Menzio is an Ivy League economist known for his expertise in search theory, which has landed him jobs at the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and Stanford’s Hoover Institution.
Menzio has also won the prestigious Carlo Alberto Medal for the best Italian economist under 40 years old.
Menzio told the Washington Post via email that he showed officials his calculations, and that the pilot seemed embarrassed. The plane eventually took off two hours after its scheduled time.