THE AIRPLANE SAFETY MANTRA THAT PASSENGERS have been hearing a lot lately is, “If you see something, say something.” It’s a good message to send to passengers — that they are equal partners in making sure everything remains safe — but it also opens the possibility that the alarm will be raised by people who are either a little too jittery or are straight up racist.

Guido Menzio was a victim of some combination of the two last week. Menzio is an award-winning Italian economist with a professorship at the University of Pennsylvania. He was on board a flight that was scheduled to travel from Philadelphia to Syracuse, New York, where he was going to connect to Ontario to give a presentation on his research. He decided, on the flight, to spend some time working on a few equations that he would need to have figured out before the presentation. So once he boarded, he started doing some math in his seat.

The woman next to him tried to talk to him, but Menzio was busy with his work, so he brushed her off and kept working. She then passed a note to the flight attendant, saying she was sick, and got off the plane. When she got off the plane, she said she was worried that Menzio was writing something in some foreign language — possibly Arabic, as Menzio has a darker Italian complexion — that could be a threat to the flight.

Officials boarded the plane, escorted Menzio off, and then apologized when they realized that his work was, indeed, math, and was not remotely threatening to the safety of the flight. They allowed Menzio back on his flight, which left two hours late. The woman who was sitting next to him asked to be placed on another flight.

Menzio handled the whole incident gracefully, despite having been racially profiled by an overly-jumpy passenger. He suggested to the Washington Post that the system maybe needs to be fixed, since “once the whistle is blown everything stops without checks — and relies on the input of people who may be completely clueless.”

So the next time you’re on the plane and have the words “if you see something, say something,” ringing in your head, remember that “something,” does not mean “anything,” and that it certainly doesn’t just mean “math.” You’re going to need to have something a little more substantial than that.

Via: The Washington Post