An Ivy League economist was removed from his flight for a maths equation that a passenger mistook for Arabic

An Italian University of Pennsylvania economics professor was pulled off of his American Airlines flight for questioning after a passenger grew concerned about “her seatmate’s cryptic notes,” The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell reported.

In reality, the economist, Guido Menzio, who Rampell described as having “dark, curly hair, olive skin and an exotic foreign accent,” had been working on a maths equation.

After an attempt at small-talk, a 30-year-old female passenger, who American Airlines has not identified for privacy reasons, alerted a crew-member, and Menzio was taken off the plane for questioning.

Menzio showed his notes — a differential equation which he had been working on for a speech he was travelling to give at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada — to the authorities and was allowed to re-board the plane and return to his seat.

Menzio was “treated respectfully throughout,” he told Rampell but was frustrated that such an incident could happen based on the misguided fears of one passenger.

He also believes that a xenophobic undercurrent in American politics contributed, later adding, “It is hard not to recognise in this incident, the ethos of [Donald] Trump’s voting base.”

The female passenger never returned to her seat.

The Department of Homeland Security encourages passengers to remain aware of their surroundings and inform airport personnel of behaviour they see as suspicious with its famous “if you see something, say something” mantra.

Menzio is a well-regarded economist who won the Carlo Alberto Medal last year , an award given to the best Italian economist under 40. He is currently a tenured associate professor at The University of Pennsylvania.

“Whenever there are conflicts between passengers we try to work with them peacefully to resolve it,” Casey Norton, a spokesperson for American Airlines, told Rampell.

The incident calls to memory a similar situation aboard a Southwest Airlines flight where a UC Berkley student was removed from his flight for speaking Arabic.

Read Rampell’s full column here »

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