Most of us would probably just write off a pair of US$250 (S$333) AirPods we somehow lost on an exhausting long-haul flight.
But a soldier’s wife from Washington state in the United States has set the gold standard for persistence when, for 12 days, she tenaciously tracked her AirPods till she finally found them in the home of an airport employee.
Ms Alisabeth Hayden was disembarking from a United Airlines plane in San Francisco after a nine-hour flight from Tokyo in early March when she noticed that she left her denim jacket on her seat. Her AirPods were tucked inside one of its pockets.
She said a flight attendant did not allow her to go back inside the plane to retrieve her jacket, but he assured her he would hand it over to her before she got on her next flight.
He did give her the jacket, and she had it with her as she settled into her seat on her flight to Seattle.
“A child was screaming next to me and I thought, ‘At least I have my AirPods’,” she recalled.
But when she reached into the pocket where she was certain she kept her AirPods, they were not there.
“The pockets were open, and my AirPods were gone,” she said.
That set her off on her dogged quest to get her earphones back.
While still on her flight to Seattle, Ms Hayden was already tracking her AirPods with the Find My app on her iPhone. She saw that the earphones were at the San Francisco airport, but they were moving.
The AirPods first appeared on her phone at United’s cargo area. Then, they moved across two terminals at the airport before heading south towards San Mateo on Highway 101.
They ended up at what appeared to be a residential address in the Bay Area, and remained there for three days.
Ms Hayden told CNN her attachment to her AirPods was less about how much she spent on them but more about what they meant to her.
It had gotten her through difficult moments, as she navigated the life of a US serviceman’s wife.
Her husband spends much of his time deployed overseas, and the AirPods made talking to him on a bad line much more bearable, said Ms Hayden.
She had, in fact, just spent time with him in Guam, and was headed back to Seattle.
“Maybe they look like AirPods to normal people. But it’s my lifeline to my husband and means something different to me,” she said. “But I shouldn’t have to explain for someone to care.”
Upon reaching Seattle, she sent an e-mail blast to executives at United, the San Francisco airport and its police force.
“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, describing United’s unhelpful response.
“First they were like, ‘I’m sorry you lost your belongings on our flight’,” she said. “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’.”
She marked her AirPods “lost” on the Find My Phone app to let anyone who had them know that they were hers.
Finally, she got a detective from the San Mateo police force who was working at the airport to check on the address her AirPods were pinging from.
A San Francisco airport employee – a contractor who loads food onto planes – had them.
United has told CNN that the person who took Ms Hayden’s earphones was not one of its employees but a “vendor”.
When investigated, the airport employee denied having the AirPods, but later changed his statement and said one of the cleaners handed them to him.
Ms Hayden got her AirPods back after 12 days, but “they look like they’ve been stomped on”.
United offered her US$271.91 so she could buy a new pair, and 8,000km free on her flights in the future.
But she was just glad her tenacity paid off, and hoped others can be as persistent in similar situations.
“I’m tenacious. But what about the people who don’t have the time or who give up? How many people will be told, ‘You left them behind, what did you expect?’” she said.