This story happened to my friend Mike Pilat on his way from Los Angeles to Philadelphia recently. Mike is a podcaster from the Philadelphia area, and you can hear him on a “Star Wars”-themed podcast Full of Sith, as well as many episodes of Obviously Oblivious, The Mediocre Show and The Awful Show.
Without further ado, I’ll let Mike tell us what happened.
I had the privilege to be invited to the “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” red carpet premiere and after-party at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, California, on December 10. If anyone reading this is a listener of the various shows (podcasts) I’ve done over the last 11 years, you’ll know that I am not a fan of traveling. I have a slightly irrational fear of flying… not because of my own well-being, but because my biggest fear is missing out on my daughter, Anyah, growing up or growing old with my amazing wife, Ariana.
The weekend was amazing. The movie was almost everything I could possibly want in my wildest dreams and expectations, and I was able to see many friends from various media outlets, companies, shows and what not and, of course, I was able to meet a few stars from the movie/other shows and movies that I hadn’t met yet. My experience in L.A./Hollywood all weekend was without any complaints, although I missed my wife and daughter, I was very happy.
Fast forward to Sunday morning. My flight to Philly was to board at 11 a.m., and my friend Bryan’s flight to Salt Lake City was right about the same time. He is a frequent traveler and has that pre-screening pass where he doesn’t have to go through regular security or take stuff off and be felt up like a criminal. I asked him to text me the place he’d be hanging out since we were in the same terminal and had some time to kill, we could have breakfast.
When it was my turn in security, I went through my usual routine. I took off my hat and in it I placed vape mod, my iPhone, my Apple Watch, necklace (with a few charms on it that I wear on flights to keep my girls close to my heart), wedding ring, wallet and belt. I then took my MacBook out of my backpack and placed it in another bin, and my bag and shoes and whatever else in a third bin. My rolling carry-on went up on the rollers by itself, with my BiPAP machine in a bin by itself.
As I got called through the human scanning machine, I stood there for what seemed to be over two minutes while they scanned me a few times. As they called me out of the scanner, they asked me to put out my arms and legs for a pat-down. Now, I have no issue with this whatsoever. I’m always patted down, and I am all for absolute security at the airport. If they want to feel up this hot body (sarcasm, of course) of mine, by all means, have at it.
However, this time, they REALLY patted me down. Up and down the outside and insides of my legs, my manly zone… hell, they asked me to unbutton my jeans, and they pulled them back out from the top of my butt, to what I can only describe as they were looking down my boxers. This pat-down took a while, felt like five minutes, but I didn’t have my watch or iPhone on me, so who knows.
By the time they finished and let me go, all my bins on the rollers were backing up everyone else’s stuff. I wanted to be efficient and kind and get out of everyone’s way, so I quickly put on my ring, necklace, belt, my iPhone in my front pocket, my wallet in my back pocket, and I put on my hat. I then moved out of the way and put my shoes on and everything back in my bags.
I didn’t notice anything different because I just wanted to make sure I had all of my bags closed so nothing fell out or no one could reach into them. I looked at my phone to see where my friend went so I could meet up with him again and have breakfast. I felt weird, though. Something was off. Sure, all things considered I got everything together pretty fast after being held up for my pat-down, but it didn’t feel right.
I sat down and ordered a breakfast sandwich, and my phone was on the table. I never have my ringer on, but vibrate always is. Since my Apple Watch vibrates on my wrist for calls and texts, I see no need for a ringtone to play. I got a few texts from my wife and suddenly realized my wrist didn’t feel the vibration. I realized I didn’t have my watch on!
I looked at the Find My iPhone app on my phone, and my watch is set up to show in the app as well. The app kept spinning and said the watch could not be located, which meant it was off or out of range from my phone. I instantly put it in Lost Mode and sent a message to it that said the watch was lost, here is my number to call me and to please return it. I even offered a few bucks as a reward.
I ran back up to security and tried to talk to the guys working at the scanner I came through. They told me to go to the TSA desk off to the side and see if anyone handed in my watch. The guys at the desk said that nothing had been handed in and asked when I lost it. I told them how I was held up and that I was in a hurry to get out of the way, and since the watch wasn’t there, it didn’t click in my head that it was gone.
They told me to go through all my luggage before they’d call the police to report this watch as stolen. I went back to the place I was eating as my friend was watching my bags, and I took them out to one of the gates close by and emptied everything out of my backpack and rolling bag. I went through all of my pockets in the bags and my clothes. I checked my phone again to see if anyone texted or called me that they found it. I checked the app again, and still no sign of my watch. I walked down and through every gate to see if it would show up in the app, but nothing. It must have been turned off.
I went back to the TSA desk. Five minutes later, the officer that was standing by the security isle I came through came over and said, “You’re reporting a watch stolen?” I respond yes, and he told me that I should go through all my luggage before he would take a report. I explained I just did all of this for the TSA guys to contact him and he said, “Do it again anyway.”
I was a little frantic because what I haven’t mentioned yet is that the Apple Watch in question was a gift from my Mom and Dad for my 40th birthday last year. I’m a sentimental dude, and the value of the watch to me wasn’t monetary; it was emotional. So, by that point I was being calm, and this TINY hobbit of a man raised his voice at me telling me to calm down and do what I’m told. I wanted to knock his teeth out.
I explained to him how the Find My iPhone app works, and if the watch was with my things, I could at least connect to it and make it play a loud pinging sound that would continue to sound until I would unlock it or the watch was powered off. To jump back for a minute, when I first realized it was gone and it didn’t show up, I sent that ping anyway so it would play if it ever came back online or into range of my phone. The hobbit officer told me he didn’t care and asked to check my luggage again. I agreed to this but asked him to look at the video of me coming through security.
As we were discussing this, other officers came over and asked tons of questions. One in particular I’ll never forget. “What kind of watch is it?” I responded, a 42mm black Apple Watch with a rubber Tech Armor bumper on it. The officer who asked the question said to me about the hobbit officer, “So it look like his watch?”
I said, “Actually it does look EXACTLY like his watch.” Even down to the Tech Armor bumper on it. They sell these bumpers on Amazon, so it is possible we have the exact same watch. I laughed it off that we had the same watch, and I half-joked to the hobbit officer, “Do you mind if I see what image is on your screen?” He instantly got loud and defensive and yelled, “NO! The battery is dead.” Yeah…OK. He suddenly became in a rush to help me, telling me he needed to go look at the video and my flight was soon departing, so we shouldn’t waste time.
I waited about 15 minutes, all the while talking to the second officer. The other officer came back and stated that the watch was on my wrist as I entered security. The camera there showed me take it off and place it into my hat in the bin. Then, there was no camera coverage after this between me at these rollers until I was on the other side of the scanner being patted down. He said the video showed me being patted down but the watch in my hat in the grey bin on the rollers was no longer there. They had no video of what happened to it.
I said that it’s ridiculous that there are dead spots for taking video at security and if other people know about it, they could be taking advantage of that and stealing things constantly. The hobbit officer told me not to be ridiculous. He said they quickly looked through the scanner machine and that it didn’t fall anywhere around there.
He then asked me to give him my bags to run through the scanner again and maybe they’d be able to see it. I asked him, if the watch was in my hat going in and then not coming out, how would it get in my bag? Are the scanning guys bag packers too? He didn’t like my attitude and took my bags and ran them through again and came back and said they didn’t see anything definitive, something watch-like was in my backpack. It ended up being my huge pass from the movie premiere the night before. Like, really? What bullshit.
At that point, the hobbit officer no longer had on “his” Apple Watch. I said, “Hey, looks like you lost your watch, too.” He responded, “No, I have it charging in the office now.” I asked to see it again, but the second officer said that wouldn’t be necessary and that the hobbit officer “is a servant of the law and wouldn’t steal anything.” I commented sarcastically that yes, throughout history, no police men or women have ever done anything dishonorable.
This pissed them both off, and I was told to go to my gate before something worse than losing a watch happens. The taller officer handed me a green card that had lax.com written on the back of it. He said I should check my bags again when I get home (which would be the fifth time) and to go to that website Tuesday afternoon and search for the lost and found link.
At this point I was upset but had a long flight ahead where all I’ll be able to do is think about losing something I held so dearly because it was from my parents. The flight on the way back was a newer American Airlines plane that didn’t have any entertainment on it, but it was a non-stop flight, and thankfully I had some movies to watch on my MacBook.
There was a good bit of turbulence coming back across the country, but the weather held out in Philly and we wouldn’t be landing on an icy runway, so in my head, I figured if losing my watch was the worst thing to happen coming home, then so be it. I just wanted to get home safely to my family.
Do I think hobbit cop stole my watch? I didn’t at first, but it was all way too coincidental, especially the way he acted. You can think I’m just crazy and overreacting or you could agree with me. Either way let me finish with this…
Remember the green card the officer at the airport gave me to go to the LAX Lost and Found on their website and he wrote it as LAX.COM? Well, when I went to that site the next day, I saw that lax.com is a lacrosse website, and the actual website is lawa.org. Do I really believe that the officer working at LAX all these years, having done countless reports of stolen items, really didn’t know the right address? Just seems way too strange for me to believe anything otherwise.
When I did finally find the LAX Police Lost and Found page, I submitted my lost item and received an email response two days later stating, “We have checked our records and your item was not located in our inventory.” I replied asking for the report number written up by the officer, and the response I got back was, “We do not have your property in our inventory. You should check with TSA since you had it when you entered the screening and didn’t have it when you left the area.”
Thanks LAX PD…for nothing. I did call the TSA number I found, and it just is a recording with an email address to contact them, and I’ve not heard anything back from them.
From now on when I travel, I will make absolutely sure to put my watch in a case inside my suitcase so that it can’t be easily plucked out of my hat. The taller officer I spoke to said that laptops, phones, watches and jewelry disappear from the security rolling tables quite frequently. “Why is there no video cameras in this area?” I asked. His response was just shrugged shoulders.
What really bugs me besides the sentimental loss is that I placed the watch in lost mode and erased it. Without my code and other information, the watch is useless. It’s a paperweight that no one else will be able to use it ever again. It’s such a waste. People suck so damn hard.
I hope my experience helps you to remember to either keep your sentimental or expensive items at home next time you travel or make sure they are packed away really, really well or you insist on not taking them off.
Crazy, right? I found out about what happened to Mike from his Instagram post, but at the time I had no idea it was that bad until he sent me his story! After some digging around, it turns out that watches do not have to come off when going through TSA screenings. What kills me, though, is that TSA did not seem helpful in this case. And why are there no cameras in such a high-security area? If anything, that is the area that should have the most cameras.
I do not know what happened to Mike’s Apple Watch. I was not there. But his thinking that shenanigans possibly happened while going through the screening isn’t that crazy of a thought. As of 2011, more than 500 TSA agents have been terminated for stealing from passengers. According to data compiled by CNN, between 2010 and 2014, LAX is the second airport with the most claims of theft from luggage, with John F. Kennedy International Airport taking the lead.
I thank Mike for sharing his story, and let this be a cautionary tale for those who travel often or seldom. According to the TSA agents in this story, valuables are missing from the X-rays machines all the time. Be cautious with your belongings and do not let this happen to you. Pack the valuables inside purses/backpacks and do not assume that all security areas are under surveillance.
Have you ever lost anything while going through TSA? Please comment below.