Mission to find missing AirPods leads to airport worker
One woman was able to locate her missing AirPods in an airport employee's home thanks to the Find My network. Here's what to do if it happens to you.
Alisabeth Hayden, from Washington state, lost her AirPods earlier this month while leaving an airplane in San Francisco. She realized that they were stolen, according to CNN.
Hayden was separated from the earphones while returning from a trip to Tokyo to see her husband, who is serving in the military.
She left herjacket on her seat in the back of the plane when she disembarked at San Francisco International Airport after a nine-hour flight from Tokyo, feeling lost.
"I realized before I was even off the plane," she says. "I was the third from last off the plane, so I asked the flight attendant if I could go and get it."
"He said no — I was required by federal law to get off the plane and stand beside it, where the strollers are brought to. I was tired, he said he'd bring it to me, I said OK."
The attendant brought her the jacket, and she boarded her next flight to Seattle. She recalls thinking, "At least I have my AirPods," as a child screamed next to her.
But when she reached into her jacket, the AirPods were missing. The pockets — which had been buttoned — were open.
Tracking the AirPods...
Hayden used the in-flight Wi-Fi to follow the headphones using the Find My app, which tracks Apple devices, even though the flight to Seattle had already taken off. At SFO, the AirPods were on display, and they were moving.
"I'm a diligent person, and I tracked the whole way from San Francisco to Seattle, taking screenshots the entire time. I live an hour from Seattle, and once I got home, I was still taking screenshots," she says.
The AirPods eventually appeared on the map in a place called "United Cargo" within the airport on the cargo side, not where a passenger would typically go.
They moved to Terminal 2 and Terminal 3 before traveling along Highway 101, heading south toward San Mateo. They eventually showed up in the Bay Area at what appeared to be a residential location, where they remained for three days.
To answer calls from her husband while he was on deployment over a poor connection, Hayden needed the AirPods. She then started a search to find them.
After discovering the United email format for employees, she emailed every executive she could find worldwide, then marked her AirPods as "lost" in the Find My app. After that, anyone who used them would hear a message telling them they were hers, giving them her phone number.
She says United was "godawful" in their communications with her.
"First they were like, 'I'm sorry you lost your belongings on our flight.' I was like, 'I didn't lose them, I was denied the ability to get my jacket by an employee...and now my $250 AirPods are missing.'"
...and getting them back
Hayden finally received help from a detective from the San Mateo police force working at the airport. He found the address the earbuds were pinging from and matched it to an airport worker's address who was a contractor loading food aboard planes.
Hayden says the detective told her that "the information had been given to United Cargo, and they were going to call this person into the office and question him."
The investigator called her once more a few days later to inform her that the employee had been interrogated. He denied having the AirPods until he was shown the tracking screenshots at his house.
After twelve days, Hayden finally got her AirPods back, although they weren't in good condition. United gave her $271.91 to buy a new pair and 5,000 airline miles as an apology.
The San Francisco Airport Police Department is handling the case and plans to submit it to the San Mateo District Attorney's office.
What to do when you lose your AirPods
Apple's Find My network can help users locate their lost or stolen AirPods. However, users need to enable the feature before they go missing.
Inside the Find My app is a place to set up "left behind" notifications for devices like AirPods. If they go missing, tap the Device tab in the app, find the AirPods in the list, and use the menu to find them on a map or activate the lost mode.
If they are stolen, you should contact your local police department and file a report instead of trying to track them down yourself at a potentially dangerous thief's house.