An American Airlines plane in flight.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
40-year-old Ivy League professor Guido Menzi, who despite his darker complexion and exotic accent is not of Middle Eastern descent, was questioned after a nearby passenger saw him working on a mathematical equation in-flight and suspected him of plotting a terror attack, the Washington Post reported.
The unsuspecting Menzi, who is Italian, boarded a plane from Philadelphia to Syracuse on Thursday evening to give a talk at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada.
His seatmate, a woman in her 30's, became suspicious of Menzi after he was inattentive to the woman's efforts at starting a conversation.
The unidentified vigilante proceeded to ask Menzi if he lived in Syracuse, to which he curtly answered no. She then noticed Menzi scribbling diligently on a pad of paper, and discerned from his quiet demeanor and strange writings that he must be plotting a terror attack.
As the plane was still boarding, the woman, attempting to save the passengers from a perceived imminent danger, handed the stewardess a note warning her of Menzi's nefarious notepad.
The woman, who had told the crew she was "ill", delayed the plane from leaving the tarmac. Shortly thereafter, Menzi was escorted off of the plane and questioned by authorities about his interaction with his seatmate. He said the interaction was fine, and although the woman had acted a bit strange, did not seem visibly ill.
Authorities then mentioned his suspicious scribbles, to which he replied that he was simply a professor working on a paper he co-authored, and his scribbles were mathematics problems he was attempting to solve.
After showing sufficient proof that he was, indeed, not a threat to anyone aboard the fateful flight, he was allowed to return to his seat. The woman never re boarded.
Casey Norton, a spokesman for American Airlines, responded to the incident, saying that while the woman had indeed initially told the crew she was sick, she disclosed to the crew that the reason she was feeling ill was due to concern over her flightmate's behavior.
Menzi remained unfazed throughout the ordeal, and told the Washington Post
that he was “treated respectfully throughout” the process but was disturbed by a safety system which “relies on the input of people who may be completely clueless”.
“What might prevent an epidemic of paranoia? It is hard not to recognize in this incident, the ethos of [Donald] Trump’s voting base,” he concluded.