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Delta questions passenger over 'atom bomb' tattoo

Los Angeles food stylist and frequent flier Adam C. Pearson is temporarily removed from the plane after another traveler sees the phrase on his hands.

November 14, 2010|By Rene Lynch, Los Angeles Times

It was the tweet heard 'round the L.A. food world.

Adam C. Pearson, a Los Angeles food stylist, was settling into his seat aboard a Delta Air Lines flight at Los Angeles International Airport on Saturday morning when a flight attendant tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to go to the front of the plane. His first thought: "I'm getting an upgrade!"

Not exactly.

Pearson was asked to step off the plane. He was told that another passenger had reported him for suspicious behavior, noting that he had the phrase "Atom Bomb" tattooed across his fingers. Questioned by the captain and the flight attendant, Pearson said the tattoo referred to a childhood nickname. After answering a few more questions, Pearson — who is a frequent Delta passenger and has flown more than 142,000 miles with the airline this year — was allowed to return to his seat.

"I was just shocked," Pearson said. "All eyes were on me. I felt everyone staring at me and I was like, 'I didn't do anything.' " Before the plane took off, he posted on his Twitter account: "Just pulled off delta flight, passenger said I was suspicious looking due to my tattoos @DeltaAssist not happy at all #goldmedallion fail."

When he landed in Memphis, Tenn., he had more than 150 e-mails asking him what happened. His tweet had exploded on the social media service. It was "retweeted" by many in Los Angeles' close-knit food world, where Pearson is well-known: He arranges food in a visually appealing way before it is photographed for glossy magazines, advertisements and cookbooks.

"I had no idea all this was going on while I was in the air," Pearson said of the digital flurry. "It speaks to the power of social media."

Delta spokesman Anthony Black said Saturday that he did not have any knowledge of the incident but that pilots and flight attendants must use their judgment to handle such matters.

Though Pearson considered his treatment distasteful, it did little to diminish his appetite. Like any good foodie, he made his first stop in Memphis at a barbecue joint called Jim Neely's Interstate Bar-B-Que.

"They've got good pig," he said.

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