Economics Professor Questioned by Airport Security for Doing Math on Flight

On Thursday night, passengers on American Airlines flight 3950 sat waiting for almost two hours for their flight from Philadelphia to Syracuse to take off. Why did they need to wait this long for what should have been only a 40 minute flight? American Airlines spokesperson Casey Norton told BuzzFeed News that it all started when one of the passengers told a flight attendant she was feeling sick and asked to be taken off the flight. However, once she got off the plane she shared with the staff that she had suspicions about the man sitting next to her.

The man turned out to be Guido Menzio, an Italian economics professor working for the University of Pennsylvania. When officials found out who the woman was talking about, they escorted Menzio off the plane to be questioned. In an email to the Associated Press he explained, "The woman was concerned that I was a terrorist because I was writing strange things on a pad of paper." The writing turned out to be Menzio's attempt to solve a differential equation in preparation for a speech he would be giving to Queen's University students in Ontario in the near future. Once officials determined that the woman's allegations were not credible, the flight was finally able to take off.

Menzio shared with The Washington Post that despite the suspicion of his fellow passenger that he could be a terrorist, he was treated with respect during questioning as well as for the rest of the flight. He believes that xenophobia, encouraged especially during this current presidential campaign, may have been a reason for the woman's suspicion of her foreign-looking seat mate. Although it may be good that airlines are taking passenger concerns seriously, they may be taking things too far. Perhaps there would have been a better way to deal with this situation than delaying a short flight for multiple hours just because of a math problem.