Lady left her AirPods on a aircraft after touchdown in San Francisco. She tracked them to an airport employee’s residence

By Julia Buckley | CNN

We’ve had people tracking their bags when airlines couldn’t find them. Now here’s something new: a passenger tracking an item she left on a plane – to an airport employee’s home.

Alisabeth Hayden travels frequently to meet her husband at his military post.  (Alisabeth Hayden via CNN)Alisabeth Hayden travels frequently to meet her husband at his military post. (Alisabeth Hayden via CNN)

Earlier in March, Washington state’s Alisabeth Hayden was separated from her AirPods – Apple’s expensive micro headphones – while stepping off a plane in San Francisco. She quickly realized that they had apparently been stolen.

But after nearly two weeks, she had them back — thanks to her persistent tracking skills.

Hayden was flying back from a trip to Tokyo to visit her husband, who is on secondment to the military, when her headphones were taken away.

Stepping off the plane at San Francisco International Airport — and a little disoriented after a nine-hour flight from Tokyo — she left her denim jacket on her seat in the back of the plane.

“I realized before I got off the plane,” she says. “I was the third to get off the plane, so I asked the flight attendant if I could get it. He said no – I was required by federal law to get off the plane and stand by where the strollers are being taken. I was tired, he said he would bring it to me, I said ok.”

He actually brought it to her – and she boarded her next flight to Seattle. “There was a kid next to me screaming and I was like, ‘At least I have my AirPods,'” she recalls. She reached for her jacket—she had left the two breast pockets buttoned, one containing her headphones, one with some Japanese yen inside.

“The pockets were open and my AirPods were gone,” she says.

Hayden received updates on the location of her AirPods the entire time they went missing. (Courtesy of Alisabeth Hayden via CNN)


The plane had already departed for Seattle, but Hayden used the onboard WiFi to track the headphones with the Find My app, which tracks Apple devices. The AirPods were shown at SFO.

Then she noticed that they were moving.

“I’m a hardworking person, and I’ve been tracking all the way from San Francisco to Seattle, taking screenshots the whole time. I live an hour from Seattle, and when I got home I was still taking screenshots,” she says.

The AirPods, meanwhile, appeared in a location on the map called “United Cargo” — still inside the airport, but on the airline’s cargo side, so not where a passenger would likely be.

Then they went to Terminal 2. Then to Terminal 3. Then they were on Highway 101 south to San Mateo. They landed at what appeared to be a residential address in the Bay Area and stayed there for three days.

Hayden tracked her AirPods to someone in the Bay Area. (Courtesy of Alisabeth Hayden via CNN)

Of course, everyone’s gadgets are valuable, but Hayden’s AirPods have a special meaning — they’re her connection to her husband, who calls her from his assignment on a line so bad she needs them to hear him.

From the moment she realized they were gone, Hayden tried to get her back. She messaged United and SFO from the plane, then tried San Francisco police, Hayward (where the tracker was displayed), and SFO’s own airport police.

She devised the email format for United employees’ emails and “devastated” every single executive she could find anywhere in the world. “I tried every avenue I could find and used every form of communication I could, and I got the same response, ‘I’m sorry this happened to you,'” she says.

In the meantime, she says, she marked the AirPods as “lost” on the app so anyone using them would hear a message letting them know they were hers and giving them their phone number.

United, she says, have been “divine” in their communication with her.

“First they said, ‘I’m sorry you lost your things on our flight.’ I was like, ‘I didn’t lose them, I was denied an opportunity to get my jacket by an employee… and now my $250 AirPods are missing.'”

The person who helped? A San Mateo Police Department detective who works at the airport.

He compared the address the headphones pinged from to the address of an airport worker — a contractor who worked loading groceries onto planes.

United would later clarify to Hayden in an email that they were “not a United employee, but a vendor.”

She now says: “I can’t speculate but what I do know is that when I got up they were in the bag, I wasn’t allowed to go back to my seat, and when the steward brought [the jacket] they weren’t there for me – and when I was chasing them, they were at an employee’s house.”

United confirmed to CNN that the employee works for a United provider and said the matter has been referred to law enforcement.

In a statement, it added: “United Airlines holds our suppliers to the highest standards and we are working with local authorities to investigate this matter.”

The AirPods were eventually reunited with their owner. (Alisabeth Hayden via CNN)

“They look like they’ve been trampled on”

Hayden says the detective told her that “the information was passed to United Cargo and they would call that person into the office and question him.”

“For the next few days, I watched 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 that they were ‘seen’. [by the app] — which meant someone had their iPhone connected to the AirPods.”

A few days later, the detective called her again to say that the employee had been questioned. He had denied having the AirPods until he was shown the tracking screenshots at his home – at which point he said he got them from one of the plane cleaners. This person denied any knowledge of the situation.

The matter is now being handled by the San Francisco Airport Police Department, which plans to refer the case to the San Mateo Attorney’s Office, a San Mateo County spokesman confirmed to CNN.

After 12 days of hunting, Hayden finally got her AirPods back — albeit not in top condition. “They look like they’ve been stepped on,” she says. “They were wrapped in a toilet paper-sized piece of bubble wrap, why bother?”

When she informed United of her condition, she was told to leave feedback using the contact form on the website. A week later, and after CNN first reached out to the airline about her case, Hayden was told she would receive $271.91 in “expenses” (to buy a new pair) plus 5,000 miles as an apology .

“I paid for you to make sure nobody steals my stuff”

Hayden – who also always travels with an AirTag – says she would like to be the latest in alleged theft from an airplane.

“I’m persistent – but what about the people who don’t have time or give up? How many people will be told, ‘You left them, what do you expect?’” she asks.

She calls the detective who helped her “amazing”.

In the meantime, she can communicate with her husband again with restored AirPods.

“Maybe they look like AirPods to normal people, but they’re my lifeline to my husband and they mean something different to me,” she says.

“But I shouldn’t have to explain it for someone to care.”

The CNN Wire
& © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery company. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button