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Newark Airport Ate My Phone

I never appreciated how important my phone was to me until I lost it in Newark airport while embarking on a four-day trip to Florida. I had reached the gate and was plugging in my phone charger when I noticed a strange feeling in my pants. A quick pat of my pocket confirmed my suspicion: my phone was missing. That was a first. Up until that point in my life I had never (knock on wood) lost a phone. I ransacked my backpack and my suitcase, but the phone was not there.

As calmly as I could, I retraced my steps, but the phone was nowhere to be found. My mind raced. Top priority was establishing a line of communication with my mother who would no doubt, at some point, freak and organize a full-on search party if she didn’t hear from me in time. I recalled that some airports had kiosks or stores that sold cheap phones, so I set out to search for one. Eventually, I located such an establishment and inquired about purchasing a cheap phone. There were two problems with that: one, I had to admit that I lost my phone in an airport, and two, I was buying a “burner” phone in an airport. Not my proudest moment.

I obtained the phone, but it came without a SIM card. That needed to be purchased separately from one of many SIM card vending machines scattered throughout the airport. Purchasing a SIM card for a burner phone from a vending machine was exactly as strange an experience as I thought it would be. I felt ridiculous.

To activate the phone and receive my new number–and, presumably, the rest of my new identity–I had to text a code to a number. After assembling the phone, I sent the code. It was like a scene from a Bourne movie. Once the text arrived with my new number, I called mom hoping she would answer and not think that I was a robot warning her about her credit. Luckily for me, she answered. Problem One: solved.

Problem Two was that my Google account–the account I used to book my entire trip–has two-part authentication enabled and the authentication device was the phone that disappeared into the Newark Triangle. That meant I had no way of getting into the account. I was flying blind. Fortunately, since I’m a horrible millennial, I had printed out my boarding pass, so I avoided the headache of trying to get a new one. That was an especially prescient move considering I didn’t have access to my flight information.

The gravity of my phoneless situation didn’t hit me until I realized that I would have to endure the flight in silence with no entertainment. Queue the Twilight Zone music. The lost phone contained thousands of downloaded Spotify songs, plus a movie I had downloaded from Amazon Prime. Naturally, since I’m still a millennial, I didn’t bring along a book, because what self-respecting modern human travels with such antiquated devices? On top of being locked out of my email, the vending machine SIM card I got for my burner lacked a data plan. Without access to my Google account, I was not able to sign into the Play Store on the burner to download apps. Without data, I had no way to shield myself from human interaction. Since I had no entertainment options available, I settled and bought a book.

Problem Three was trying to secure a ride to my hotel, partly because I didn’t have Uber and mostly because I was unsure of which hotel I had booked. That’s one of the perils of booking a trip and bundling the different pieces together. Since I had no data and no email, I couldn’t check my reservation. I was up the creek and trying to steer my canoe with a tennis racquet. On a whim, I chose a hotel that sounded like the one I thought I had booked. I then had to rely on the old-fashioned method of asking a human for a phone number and placing a telephone call to the hotel to schedule a shuttle. Imagine my relief when I arrived at the hotel and the check-in person confirmed my reservation.

Problem Four was surviving the rest of the trip. Without social media, I was unable to do millennial things like post pictures of my food or send video SnapChats of me enjoying the 90-degree Florida weather to my northern friends to make them jealous. My burner at least allowed me to communicate with the three people whose numbers I remembered, but a carrier pigeon might have been more reliable. Calls would drop if anyone within five feet of me so much as sneezed and signal strength would go to zero if I passed through any medium thicker than tree shade.

When I arrived back at work Monday morning, I was not able to log into our business apps, since they require two-factor authentication. Minor setback. I also had to face a wee bit of ridicule from coworkers since news in a small office travels faster than lost iPhones through Newark airport.

I’d like to blame two-part authentication for making my life difficult, but it was my own carelessness and stupidity that nearly screwed me into oblivion. At times, I thought I was on a Discovery Channel survival show. Millennials Traveling Without Phones. Despite the setbacks, I’m glad I enabled two-part authentication. The ordeal proved a) just how hard it is to crack two-part authentication, b) just how deeply rooted technology is in our lives, and c) that I would make a terrible action hero.

Some major life lessons were learned from this experience:

  • Don’t lose your phone. The obvious takeaway from this whole ordeal.
  • Travel with a book. It’s always good to have a backup plan.
  • Travel with a computer. Again, I’m a terrible millennial, so I also neglected to bring along a laptop. My laptop is already authenticated with Google, so I could have used that to check my email.
  • Back up your phone. I had iCloud backups enabled for my phone, and there was a fresh backup from the night before I lost it. Aside from a little confidence in my ability to keep track of my belongings, I didn’t lose a thing.
  • Make sure that security is enabled on your phone. Be sure to set at least set a login PIN for your phone. If your phone supports fingerprint login, enable that, as well.
  • Make sure that security is enabled for your apps. If any of your apps have access to your financial information, make sure they require a password to log in. NEVER set them to remember the password. Rather, set them so you must enter a password every time you open the app.
  • Newark airport lost and found is useless. I had a better chance of Gandhi handing me the winning Mega Millions ticket while I was a date with Emma Watson than I had of finding my phone.

If you do lose your phone, or if it is stolen, contact your service provider and have the number disabled. Report it stolen, then change the passwords on your important accounts. The last thing you want is whoever possesses your phone to have access to your personal information.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go dump my burner into the nearest trash can.

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