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Photo by Lasse Fuss | Wikimedia Commons

Penn professor Guido Menzio was on an American Airlines flight when he was profiled as a terrorist — for working on a differential equation onboard.

Menzio was on a plane scheduled to make a short trip from Philadelphia to Syracuse on Thursday when the woman sitting beside him passed a flight attendant a note. The plane sat waiting to take off for half an hour, and then turned around and headed back to the gate. Menzio’s seatmate was escorted off the plane — the flight attendant indicated that she was sick — and then Menzio was also escorted off the plane. An agent subsequently informed him that the woman sitting next to him hadn’t actually been sick; instead, she had said that she suspected him of terrorism because of the suspicious letters that he was writing, the Washington Post reported.

In response, Menzio just laughed, and explained that what he was working on was a math problem. Eventually, he was deemed harmless and allowed to return to the plane, which finally took off two hours late.

Menzio is a world-renowned economist, and was on his first leg of his trip to Ontario, Canada to give a talk at Queen’s University about menu costs and price dispersion. Last year he won the Carlo Alberto Medal, awarded to the best Italian economist under 40. The dark curly hair and olive skin tone that his seatmate may have thought indicated Middle Eastern descent were actually marks of his Italian roots.

Menzio told the Washington Post in an email that the jumpiness of the woman who reported him could be related to rhetoric of the current presidential election cycle.

“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 wrote to the Post.

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