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This Air Canada employee found a passenger’s lost phone — then it disappeared

Olu Awoseyi remembers that sinking feeling after boarding a plane that he didn’t have his three-month-old, pricey Samsung phone. 

Awoseyi, his wife and two children were returning from a vacation from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. They had just taken their seats on the Toronto to Edmonton leg of their trip when he realized his phone was missing.  

He got his wife to call the phone, only to be disappointed, “We didn’t hear vibrate or ring around me, so I knew I dropped it at the point of boarding.”  

It was too close to take-off to go look for it. But when he returned home, he remembered he’d installed a security application called Bitdefender on the phone. The app was set up to snap a photo of anyone who tried to unlock the phone with the wrong PIN. 

Sure enough, he found a photo taken approximately 90 minutes after he’d boarded his flight: It was an Air Canada employee staring back at him.

He studied the photo carefully, double-checking the colours of the person’s uniform. “At first I was kind of excited,” he told Go Public.

“I think I’m in good hands. If it’s an employee of Air Canada that found it, then I’m OK.” 

That was Oct. 9. Over the next five weeks his optimism turned to anger and frustration as he repeatedly called and emailed Air Canada’s customer service and communicated with its online customer support chat service — to no avail.

He also tried to track the phone using Bitdefender and the Google Find My Device app. But the phone appeared to be switched off, so the trackers didn’t work. 

A man sits at a desk that is crowded with several laptops and computer keyboards.
Olu Awoseyi was optimistic the photo would help him get the phone back. Over the next five weeks his optimism turned to anger and frustration as Air Canada seemed unable to locate it. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

On Nov. 9, an Air Canada agent said a Samsung phone had been turned in at the Pearson Airport’s lost and found. But Awoseyi had checked, and the lost and found service said they did not have his phone. 

A little over a week later, Air Canada customer service wrote a conflicting email, saying the airline had identified and interviewed the employee in the photo. 

WATCH | Missing phone, mystery employee:

Edmonton man battles Air Canada over lost iPhone | Go Public

Edmonton’s Olu Awoseyi has spent months trying to get Air Canada to either retrieve or replace his expensive new iPhone. An airline employee found it and claims to have placed it in a lost and found, but it disappeared. Awoseyi says Air Canada has given him the runaround ever since.

It said, according to the employee and an eyewitness, the phone had been returned to the Air Canada customer service desk, in Pearson’s international area. 

Despite this, the email went on to explain, the phone was nowhere to be found.

“We have conducted our own thorough search this morning at the airport’s Lost and Found, as well as at Air Canada’s Lost and Found,” it said, “but regrettably, we have not Located your phone.” 

A product shot of a mobile phone
Awoseyi is still paying for the lost Samsung S23 Ultra phone that he bought as part of his mobile plan contract. (Samsung)

That Nov. 16 email was Air Canada customer support’s last communication with Awoseyi. Even the chat bot stopped replying to him.

In a statement to Go Public, Toronto Pearson Airport said it has “no written or video record” of the phone being dropped off at its lost and found.

Go Public asked the country’s two largest airlines and Canada’s busiest airports about their success rates reuniting customers with their lost items. The airports report thousands of lost items each year, especially electronics like phones and tablets. 

Air Canada claimed a 92 per cent success rate last year. Pearson appears to have been in second place, behind Vancouver International Airport, saying it got more than half of its lost items back to their owners. 

In a statement to Go Public, Air Canada denied responsibility for the lost phone “as it is a personal item. Regrettably, several efforts to locate the item…have been unsuccessful.”

With the case unresolved and the last documented sighting of the phone in the hands of an Air Canada employee, Awoseyi is left thinking the worst.

A photo of a man with the face blurred out, alongside a printed warning indicating he has tried to unlock a mobile phone.
This is the photo and alert Awoseyi received from the Bitdefender app. (Bitdefender)

“Why try to unlock [the phone], when you don’t have a code for the phone? So that made me believe this was a case of a theft.”

Regardless of what happened, Weston Powell, a Toronto lawyer, says Air Canada likely had an obligation to take care of the phone.

“Finders keepers, losers weepers — that’s not an accurate summation of the law,” Powell said.

A man in a blue suit smiles for the camera.
Toronto lawyer Weston Powell says Air Canada is likely liable for the lost phone. (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

“When someone comes into possession of someone else’s property and that person’s identification is known, they do have obligations to return that property.”

Powell says the person snapped in the photo holding the phone may have some explaining to do, “But beyond that, Air Canada would also owe obligations because they are vicariously liable for their employee’s actions.” 

Chris Choi, a professor at the School of Hospitality, Food and Beverage Management at the University of Guelph, says Air Canada’s response is the sort of thing that erodes customers’ trust.   

He says it’s not only the fact that the airline can’t account for the missing phone, but that its customer support has stopped communicating with Awoseyi altogether. 

“Ignoring the customer like that seems like you’re trying to avoid fixing the problem,” Choi said. “This situation can harm the airline’s reputation for a long time.” 

Awoseyi has since redoubled his efforts to hold Air Canada to account. He filed a complaint with the Peel Regional Police, the closest municipal police force to Pearson Airport and hired a lawyer, who in a Jan. 8 letter asked for compensation for his phone and legal fees. 

That letter received no response until almost three weeks later — three days after Go Public’s initial inquiries about the case — from a lawyer in Air Canada’s department of Litigation and Management, Global Claims.

That lawyer asked for the same information Awoseyi had already communicated to the airline’s customer support channels multiple times, and promised to get back to him “as soon as possible.” As of Friday, Awoseyi has received no response.

For now, he says he’s still on the hook for about $2,000 left on the contract for his uninsured phone.

“I think it’s disappointing.” he said. “I would think an organization like Air Canada should have a zero tolerance for things like this.”

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