math is hard

Flight Delayed, Economist Questioned After Doing Math While Looking Middle Eastern

Guido Menzio Photo: University of Pennsylvania

On Thursday, an American Airlines flight from Philadelphia to Syracuse was delayed so that authorities could investigate concerns about Guido Menzio, a world-renowned Ivy League economist from Italy, whose scrawling of equations, combined with some ethnic profiling, had worried a fellow passenger, according to Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell. After the regional jet had finished boarding in Philadelphia, the passenger apparently passed a note to a flight attendant after she saw her seatmate, the curly-haired, olive-skinned Menzio, scrawling on a notepad, and the plane eventually returned to the gate where the passenger and then Menzio were escorted off and questioned.

Rampell reports that according to American Airlines, the woman had complained of being sick, then explained to authorities that in fact she was anxious about the presence of Menzio and his math-making. Authorities told Menzio he had been suspected of terrorism, but when he told them who he was and showed them his calculations, they confirmed he wasn’t a threat and he was allowed to return to his seat and continue his delayed flight to Toronto, where the University of Pennsylvania professor was due to give a talk on a paper he had co-authored about menu costs and price dispersion. No government agency was involved in the incident. Menzio said he was treated respectfully by security personnel, and the pilot had seem embarrassed over the mixup, but that he was troubled, understandably, by a “security protocol that is too rigid–in the sense that once the whistle is blown everything stops without checks—and relies on the input of people who may be completely clueless.” In a now-deleted post detailing the incident on Facebook, Menzio also worried that “Trump’s America is already here.”

Economist Profiled After Doing Math on Plane