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L.A. food stylist pulled from flight for 'Atom Bomb' tattoo

Pearson300 It was the Tweet heard 'round the L.A. food world.

Noted Los Angeles food stylist Adam C. Pearson was settling into his seat aboard a Delta flight Saturday morning when the flight attendant tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to come to the front of the plane. His first thought? "I'm getting an upgrade!"

Not exactly.

Pearson was temporarily asked to step off the plane and learned that another passenger had reported him for suspicious behavior, and noted that he had the words "Atom Bomb" tattooed across his fingers. Questioned by the captain and the flight attendant, Pearson explained that the tattoos referred to a childhood nickname. After answering a few more questions, Pearson -- who is a frequent Delta passenger and has flown over 142,000 miles with the airline this year alone -- 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 twittered: "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, he had over 150 e-mails asking him what happened, and learned that his Tweet had exploded on the social media venue. It was "reTweeted" by many in L.A.'s close-knit food world, where Pearson is well-known for his stylish presentation of food so that it can be photographed for glossy magazines, advertisements and cookbooks. (It was laughable to many that the colorful Pearson could be considered a safety threat.)

"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."

A Delta representative told Pearson the airline would look into the incident. “A public apology would be nice,” Pearson said. “I’m not out for blood,” he added, “but why didn’t they offer to book that other person on another flight if they didn’t like my tattoos? Why was that other person more important than me?”

Later in the day, Delta spokesman Anthony Black said he did not have any knowledge of the incident but said that the pilot and flight attendant must use their judgment to handle such matters.

Pearson, who is one half of a food blogging/food photography/food styling power duo (the other half being Matt Armendariz), said he has never before been questioned about his tattoos or behavior while flying. "It really just made me kind of sad that you could just point at someone and say 'That guy is acting suspicious,' " he said. "It was just a bummer."

It was also just one of the snafus in his trip. Pearson was traveling to Milwaukee for a food styling job for Kohl's, but his first flight was cancelled. After racing around for new tickets, he was booked on the flight that would take him to Memphis and then on to Milwaukee. But a connector flight was overbooked, leaving him and his assistant with several hours to kill in Tennessee.

Like any good foodie, Pearson was finding a way to make it work: He used the Memphis layover to make a barbecue pit stop at Jim Neely’s Interstate Bar-B-Que, which is where we caught up with him.

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

--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo courtesy Adam C. Pearson

Comments () | Archives (366)

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So *that's* what happened to Chris Elliot.

Why all the questions. All they had to do is offer him a pork sandwich. Lucky Bruno Napalatano wasn't there. He'd be given a full body scan and body cavity search.

Yet another example of how useless our airport security system is. People have bought into FEAR and HYSTERIA in the post-September 11 world and it has ruined an entire industry.

Let's put an end to the TSA now: http://www.savvytravel.net/2010/11/taking-on-the-tsa/

One may, should one desire, cover one's self with tatoos and piercings. That is a part of what we have in America called Liberty.

Just as true is the fact that many others of us find such tatoos and body alterations as a part of a lower society of "the common culture" and those who adorn themselves become suspect in a lot of minds.

I applaud Mr. Pierson for his success in life, despite his adornments. Personally, I would not hire Mr. Pierson in any position where he would be seen by the public, as he just looks like trailer park trash to me.

this guy is an idiot.

#goldmedallion fail


The accuser should have been thrown off the plane for too stupid to fly.

Again an ordinary, or extraordinary AMERICAN is pulled off a flight because of some ink. This while foreigners who HATE America and Americans are allowed to often hide in head to toe death shrouds and with their scumbag lawyers DENY the TSA pat downs that every one else, including Catholic NUNS have to endure.

I hope the Terrorist Security Agency keeps it up. They'll eventually p/o enough of a mix of people that they stop terrorizing decent people and start terrorizing the terrorists.

it sounds like the "atom bomb" tattoo was just an excuse to have this guy removed from the plane- when the real issue was... this guy is different and i dont want to ride all the way to memphis with him. i have lots of tats- and get rude comments from people sometimes. just the other day, a man kept questioning me- "do your parents know about your tattoos? does your husband know about your tattoos?" all with a disgusted look on his face. lol! and if i were married, i think my husband would know about them... just saying. i just think its funny- we are not all from the same generation- old timers think women shouldnt have tattoos- and thats fine... but seriously- are we that scary to ride on a plane with? i have skulls with crossbones and daggers- does that make me violent? no- it means i like skulls and crossbones with daggers :D what if i were uncomfortable with how you looked- and asked they remove you from the plane? not cool.

I'm not sure if Delta did anything wrong here. They got a tip of a suspicious person on flight; they followed up on the tip to make sure; they asked a few questions and then determined that the tip was just stupid and let him get back to his seat. That basically is following procedure and they made the correct judgment. It sucks to be him during the time though, and of course everyone would be super curious and stare. It's kind of a human nature thing with how he would feel about it and how people would react to it.

Imagine if Delta got a tip and they didn't follow up on the tip and something happened. People would be uproar in anger in their lack of action. They are screw if they do and screw if they don't.

The person who reported him... well, that's a totally different story. That guy deserve to be stared down in shame. Perhaps, a good whooping as well.

Why are we living in Nazi Germany? Did I get stuck in a Vortex or something?

Seems to me like there's two things going on here. Firstly there's the issue of 'security', specifically airport and airline security. And Secondly there's suspicion of someone with the words 'Atom Bomb' tattooed on his hands.
The material facts of the case are that he was not a threat to the security of that plane. That was demonstrated by the fact that he was allowed on in the first place, and then after the matter in question had been cleared up, allowed back on again.
The second issue is rather more complex. I doubt that there are many people (particularly among those who fly frequently) who don't worry about potential threats. I've sat in departure lounges eyeing up a few possible terrorists. Someone who's talking on the phone (finalising plans perhaps?), or someone adjusting their underwear (because there's a bomb in it?). What I don't do is alert security. I don't alert security because I'm wrong. I'm paranoid. I've watched too many TV shows about how the terrorists are coming to get us and it's up to us to stop them because a man once got through security at Heathrow with an AK-47.
The person who was so kind as to alert security to the 'threat' that this completely innocent man posed should have done what I do: shut the hell up. Don't infect other people with your paranoia. And also, a question: would you have alerted the cabin crew if you were suspicious of this man based on his race or the colour of his skin? What if he had been adjusting his sock a little too much? No? But it's ok to assume he's a terrorist because he has a tattoo. Because that's the common denominator that we've all been looking for when trying to figure out how to spot a terrorist. Damn it. And it was staring us in the face the whole time...

This is unacceptable, as are many of the comments that have been left. Just because he has tattoo's doesn't mean that he is a bad person, nor does it mean that he has an "atom bomb" because it is tattooed on his phalanges! As many people judge those with tattoo's thinking that they are in need of attention, or the girl with the "un natural" hair color and thinking she must have been missing a father figure in her life. People, we are ALL the same inside, we just look different on the outside, and if people chose to adorn their bodies with pictures or haircolors, it doesn't change who they are and that they have all of the same organs as you! Remember, the cowards who started all of this, they had the same organs in their bodies, and before all of this airport stuff ever happened, you probably walked down the street past those people and didn't second look because you were too busy judging someone with a tattoo.

Adam is undoubtedly pleased with the publicity he has been afforded by this "incident". I hope he benefits from all of this after what he had to put up with.

Those damn sneaky ginger bearded hipsters. Very suspicious.

The cowardly mental midget who reported the "suspicious behaviour" should be really proud of themselves. Welcome to the results of the politics of fear.

Hey, that's what I call you..." The colorful Pearson!"

They pull this guy yet a Muslim in full garb with a box reading BOMB would be whisked through screening and put in first class and offered a Halāl meal with all the trimmings.

The Bible said everything would be azz backwards in the final days and whatta ya know, it is.

Im covered in tattoos and have inch and a half guages and pink and purple hair and I didnt do it to complain about people judging or staring at me. But its the norm now days. We do it because we are a canvas of other's art and it pisses me off you all can defend some petty person who can pass judgement. Lemme guess you all are christian right? well doesnt God only pass judgement? so stop judging someone else because of their personal choice. and Jesus had a beard, hes the most hippy person we probably could've known!
Its like when i was younger i had a friend who's dad had a beard and long hair and a church wouldnt allow him to come in looking that way....hello you have a picture of Jesus hanging on a wall as you tell him its wrong to look that way.
Maybe you should let your God do the judging in the end and mind your own damn business.

@chokehold - btw I'm not saying Delta didn't do anything wrong here (If this guy wasn't clear then TSA shouldn't have cleared him, and Delta should have let that go... it's just more of the inconsistent actions taken in the name of security).

@chokehold : uh, it's wrong to judge people for qualities they were born with. There is nothing inherently wrong with judging people based on the CHOICES they've made (like getting a tattoo, or commenting on a blog). Equating the suffering of black people during slavery with the attention one gets from getting a provocative tattoo is (in my humble, subjective judgment), really ignorant.

note to future "terrorists" - no tattoos!
of course the new XRAY machines will solve this incredibly dangerous situation.

I always admired people who brand them self for life with tatoos. What I don't admire at all is being surprised or complaining for being treated differently because of their branding. How exactly is the atom bomb tatoo on his hands different from a "Born terrorist" tatoo on his forehead? If you decide to stand out like that you have to be prepared to take consequences. That's often the price of "being special".

Look at me, look at me, look at me! This guy is begging for attention and he got it. On the plane and now in the press- I'm sure he's eating it up. The guy had the word "bomb" written on his knuckles. Whether it was a sharpie or a tattoo it merits the interest of the people sharing the plane with him.

And as with one of the other readers I'd like to know the relationship between the "shocked" food stylist and the Times writer.

Yikes! I hope that dude wears full face/hair nets when working. Nothing like beard hair from a dirty looking hipster in your food.

@ Alejandra: "You can't have that many visible tattoos, piercings, and those ear things, and then be surprised when it attracts attention!" Really? So you're saying that judging people is okay? So, what you're saying is that the blacks should have just sucked up slavery because they were born black? Why are you guys so surprised you're slaves? You're black, Duh!

No. Delta did do something wrong, Alejandra. They could have asked the bigot who pointed Adam out as "suspicious", and as Adam himself politely put it, asked that person to move to another flight.

I realize this is an unpopular opinion among the food bloggers, but I don't think Delta did anything wrong here. I'm sorry, but if you have the word "bomb" tattooed on yourself, you can't be surprised that some people might think it's a little suspicious or scary. I am glad people are reporting things that look a little strange or suspicious; that's what we WANT. Delta didn't block him from flying; they just talked to him for a bit to make sure everything was OK. That was absolutely the right move. And honestly? You can't have that many visible tattoos, piercings, and those ear things, and then be surprised when it attracts attention!

How did this guy get thru TSA screening? would this not be a concern of the highly trained TSA screeners. TSA is such a joke.

How did he get past TSA without question? Should that be the news on how poor the TSA employees really are?Are they not the ones trained to identify so called viasual flags?

The fall of the Roman Empire.

Just as well that people judge on looks and not intelligence otherwise half the posts here would have people locked away in special wards.

How many of you honestly think that someone intending to blow up a plane would actually TATTOO his weapon of choice on his knuckles?

But oh no, he has tattoos he doesn't look like us, he must be suspicious....morons.

The TSA fondles and irradiates us.

The TSA terrorizes a three year old (why hand search a toddler??):

WHEN will we stand up and say enough is enough.

End of the day - Would the general public prefer Delta ignore a complaint from a customer about a safety concern? Or would they prefer Delta followed up on the complaint?

I'm sure they'd have a lot more to answer for if he actually was a threat and they decided to brush off the complaint. He should suck it up. Delta staff made a judgement call and allowed him back on the plane.

The sad part of this story is not the fact that this circus freak was pointed out by another passenger; the saddest part is the level of fear shown by the passenger that pointed him out. Our moronic government has not only declared all airline passengers terrorist until proven otherwise, their sledgehammer, nazi, approach to security is producing a paranoid population that out of fear will end up turning on themselves like frightened children.

Imagine how this looks to the outside world....Americans scared of tattoos. .
Don't blame others (not even your attackers).
Your problems are created by your government and the "false friends" which they protect in your name, THEY deserve to be treated with suspicion, not some guy with a tattoo on his fingers or a t-shirt with" Hi my name is Jack." Do you really think someone would advertise their intentions to commit a crime. How many bank hold-ups are committed by a person walking down the street wearing a mask and a bag marked "SWAG"
Where is the once great USA defender of Freedom and Liberty? Your leaders have been hijacked and as much as I love the US I'm avoiding it until sanity returns.

What a buncha pansies.

Anyone who gets nervous over someone else's tattoos (heaven forbid someone get on with a "scary tatto" - http://www.tressugar.com/25-Crazy-Tattoos-3641715?page=0,0,11 ) should not be allowed to be in charge of his/her own medication, let alone fly on an airplane unaccompanied.

For those who want to blame the victim, I salute you. How are you able to function while surrounded by people who don't look like you?

Because EVERY self-respecting terrorist would have Atom Bomb tattooed on his/her knuckles.
Cut me a break. How stupid.

This is more usual than not these days. Come on--- tats and plugs are as common as a cold!

You are not like me, thus you must be a bad person.. Show some tolerance..

"It really just made me kind of sad that you could just point at someone and say 'That guy is acting suspicious,' " he said

This stuff has been happening since the dark ages and the witch hunts. Nothing new here.

I have a suggestion to Adam (aka atom bomb), perhaps Adam, you could develop a TATOO SCANNER and sell it to the airtravel industry nazis, then buy Delta from the proceeds of sale and sack a few cabin attendants if you know what I mean, the whole incident is a joke to this Australian reader.

@Jason and Deborah:
Yeah, because terrorists always tattoo their intentions onto their knuckles for all to see. Kind of like how the 9/11 terrorists had "BOX CUTTER" tattooed onto their wrists. Derp.

This is ridiculous. Why are airlines freaking out about tattoos so much (this, Joel Madden, etc.)? There's nothing scary about having "ATOM BOMB" on your knuckles. I want the love on one set of my knuckles and hate on the other (cos they're lyrics from a Clash song ("Death Or Glory" off of London Calling) that has a meaning from me. That is no more scary than atom bomb or anything else I could get on my knuckles. So why is it standing out? Why did they choose to make an example of him? Because that's essentially what they were doing-- using him to set an example for everyone else. Is it because he stood out? Are we supposed to conform until we blend in as one person, instead of having individual characteristics? Maybe I'm overreacting and reading too far into this, but I think it's a scary sign of things to come.

The passenger that said he looked suspicious should have then been removed from the plane. If we are going to judge others without due process then the person causing the false alarm should have reprocussions as well.

Lock him up in Guantanamo!

If we looking for clues tatooted on people that may be up to know good, then I think we are in trouble.

I'm glad that we can all feel safer, knowing that our neighbors are watching us, making sure that we're all like they are, that we have no tattoos, that we don't have unusual piercings, that we're the picture-perfect example of Eddie Haskel standing beside a white picket fence.

I'm glad I don't have the need to fly anywhere these days, or I might get turned in to the Gestapo by my fellow passengers because I don't quite fit their picture of "normal".

Gee im shocked, a white guy pulled off an airplane after being reported suspicious.

Just imagine what would happen if you reported a muslim for being suspicious.

You'd be pulled off the plane.

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