Italian maths professor on US flight profiled for terrorism

A top US university maths professor was briefly removed from his American Airlines flight and interrogated by American authorities on the grounds that he ‘was writing strange things on a pad of paper.’

Photo by: University of Pennslyvania
Photo by: University of Pennslyvania

Guido Menzio, an Italian maths professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is pictured in this undated photo.

An Ivy League professor has said his flight was delayed because a fellow passenger thought the math equations he was writing might be a sign he was a terrorist.

American Airlines confirmed that the woman expressed suspicions about University of Pennsylvania economics professor Guido Menzio. She said she was too ill to take the Air Wisconsin-operated flight.

Menzio said he was flying from Philadelphia to Syracuse on Thursday night and was solving a differential equation related to a speech he was set to give at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada. He said the woman sitting next to him passed a note to a flight attendant and the plane headed back to the gate. Menzio, who is Italian and has curly, dark hair, said the pilot then asked for a word and he was questioned by an official.

"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."

Menzio said he explained what he had been doing and the flight took off soon afterward. He was treated respectfully throughout, he added. But, he said, he was concerned about a delay that a brief conversation or an Internet search could have resolved.

"Not seeking additional information after reports of 'suspicious activity' ... is going to create a lot of problems, especially as xenophobic attitudes may be emerging," he said.

Menzio also wrote an email to a Washington Post columnist saying that “It is hard not to recognize in this incident, the ethos of [Donald] Trump’s voting base.”

American spokesman Casey Norton said the Air Wisconsin crew followed protocol to take care of an ill passenger and then to investigate her allegations. Norton wouldn't specify the details of the allegations, but said officials determined them to be non-credible. The woman was rebooked on a later flight.

Early in April, a UC Berkeley student was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight after a female passenger sitting in front of him complained to flight attendants that he was uttering suspicious words in Arabic.

An increasing number of Muslim passengers have been compelled to leave their flights after complaints from other fellow passengers based on the way they look, the language they speak, or other minor things such as writing scribbles, as happened in this incident.

TRTWorld and agencies