If you're a regular, or even a casual, traveler, you've heard the saying: If you see something, say something. A product of the post-9/11 world, it's the adage used to encourage airline passengers to speak up about suspicious persons, items, or behaviors that they observe while in airports and on planes. On Saturday, a passenger traveling from Philadelphia to Syracuse did just that — and University of Pennsylvania professor Guido Menzio was questioned for doing math while onboard the flight.
Menzio had been traveling from Philadelphia to Kingston, Ontario, where he was expected to speak about some of his research at Queen's University in Canada. The first leg of his journey was a brief American Airlines flight from Philadelphia to Syracuse, a trip just over an hour's trip, according to American Airlines schedules. After boarding the plane, Menzio began work on some differential equations, complex math problems that his seatmate reportedly mistook for threatening plans. She reported him to authorities, and he was escorted off the plane for questioning. At that point, he explained who he was and what he was doing, and was allowed back onto the plane, which then took off approximately two hours after its scheduled departure time.
According to the University of Pennsylvania's website, Menzio works as an associate professor in the economics department and as a research associate for the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private, nonprofit research organization. He is an Italian citizen and a permanent resident of the U.S. Although he completed his undergraduate education in Italy, Menzio got his master's degree and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University in Illinois.
In 2015, Menzio won the biennial Carlo Alberto Medal, given to the best Italian economist under 40. In his nomination, Menzio was called "one of the truly outstanding economists of his generation." Some of Menzio's most recent research involves the way in which workers search for and transition between jobs, as well as price dispersion, or the idea that prices for goods can vary among sellers of the same product.
So how does an economics professor — and a pretty well respected one, at that — get mistaken for a potential terrorist? The woman who suspected Menzio of threatening activity has not spoken to the media, but it would seem that Menzio's complex math equations, perhaps coupled with his foreign accent, made her feel uneasy. It was an unfortunate mix-up for sure, and it could point to larger concerns about unfair profiling, but fortunately, the economist was back on his way to more math and new discoveries after the brief but probably inconvenient incident.