In March of this year, Alisabeth Hayden, a resident of Washington state, experienced a startling surprise when she misplaced her AirPods while deplaning after arriving in San Francisco.
She subsequently traced them to an airport employee's residence.
Hayden had been traveling back from Tokyo, Japan, where she had visited her military spouse. It was then that she realized that she had left her denim jacket on her seat when departing the airplane.
"I realized before I was even off the plane. I was the third from last off the plane, so I asked the flight attendant if I could go and get it," she shared in an interview.
"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."
Subsequently, Hayden was successfully reunited with her denim jacket and proceeded to continue her journey to Seattle.
"A child was screaming next to me and I thought, 'At least I have my AirPods'," Hayden shared.
Upon reaching for her AirPods, which she had left secured in her jacket's buttoned pocket, Hayden discovered that they were missing.
Unfortunately, the plane had already departed for Seattle at that point. Nevertheless, Hayden was able to track her AirPods utilizing the 'Find My' app on her iPhone via the in-flight Wi-Fi.
The app indicated that her AirPods were still at San Francisco Airport; however, she later realized that they were in motion.
"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 added.
After tracking the AirPods using the 'Find My' app on her iPhone, Hayden saw that they were moving around the airport, going from cargo to Terminal 2, then Terminal 3 before ending up on the highway headed for San Mateo.
They were finally located at a residential address in the Bay Area where they stayed for three days.
Hayden tried contacting as many United and SFO employees as possible, including SFO's airport police, but unfortunately received the same disappointing email response every time.
"I hit every avenue I could find, and used every possible form of communication, and got the same response: 'I'm sorry that happened to you,'" she said.
After marking the AirPods as 'lost' on the app, Hayden hoped that whoever found them would be able to contact her.
Luckily, a detective from the San Mateo Police Department was able to locate the AirPods. The detective matched the address where the AirPods were located to a contractor who worked at the airport and was responsible for loading food onto the planes.
"For the next few days, I was watching my AirPods at this man's house. They should have died, because I hadn't charged them before my trip, but I kept getting a notification on that they had been 'seen' [by the app] – which meant someone had connected their iPhone to the AirPods," Hayden said.
Despite the contractor denying having the AirPods when questioned by authorities, Hayden persisted in her search and finally, after 12 days, received her AirPods back, albeit in a disheveled state.
"They look like they've been stomped on," she explained. "They were wrapped in a toilet paper-sized piece of bubble wrap, why bother?"
After she received the damaged AirPods, Hayden raised the issue with United Airlines. She left feedback on their website and also contacted CNN about the incident. Following this, the airline offered her compensation of $271.91 for 'expenses' and 5,000 air miles as an apology.