Aid! A Budget employee took my phone and I can prove it.| Trending Viral hub

One day last July, I was dropping off a rental car at the Budget location at Boston Logan International Airport when I lost my iPhone. As I remember, I left it in the car while I went to take out trash, but neither my wife nor I nor the employee who helped us could find it. After my flight home, I began tracking the phone using Apple’s Find My app, and after a trip through western Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the phone began traveling back and forth from an apartment building in Lynn, Massachusetts, to the Budget office in Logan. . I reported this to both Budget and the airport police, but the police told me they could only take action if Budget gave them the names of the employees who lived at that address, and Budget did not help me. I want Budget to return my phone or pay for a replacement. Can you help? John, Jacksonville, Florida.

Apologies for the nickname, but I need a way to distinguish you from another traveler named John, who wrote in with a strikingly similar story about losing an iPhone while returning a rental car to Alamo at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Alamo John did not immediately realize his phone was missing at the agency and headed out to catch a flight, reporting the loss to Alamo from the airport. A few days later, when he downloaded his iCloud data to an old iPhone his daughter had lent him, he noticed that someone had saved a number in his contacts (with a name he didn’t recognize) and then called him four times in a matter of hours. . after he lost the phone.

So, using detective skills apparently innate to people named John who drop off iPhones at car rental agencies, Alamo John called the number and spoke to a man who spoke little English, but enough to imply that he was related to a Alamo employee. (It would turn out that he was actually the employee.) Alamo John then reported this to the rental car agency, but Alamo told him repeatedly over the next few weeks that they had not found his phone.

I wrote to Budget and Alamo, and both companies quickly contacted their respective travelers to apologize and refund the cost of the new iPhones: $1,076 for you, Budget John, and $770 for your Alamo counterpart. But it’s one thing for big companies to shell out some money to avoid bad publicity, it’s another to explain to me (and Times readers) what happened and what agencies will do to avoid similar debacles in the future.

Budget, part of Avis Budget Group, responded to my fourth email with a one-line statement from Mariam Eatedali, a principal at Edelman, a public relations firm. “After a review, Budget apologized” to the customer, the email said, “and refunded the cost of his phone.” The response did not answer my questions about why Budget did not report the apparent theft to the police, what went wrong along the way, and whether any employees were disciplined or fired.

We actually know a little about Budget’s processes, thanks to emails sent to me from the Avis Budget employee who contacted you, a senior customer advocacy manager named Justin Bryce.

Mr Bryce apologized to you and added: “As we complete our investigation, there is sufficient doubt that it may have been an ABG employee who took your phone. Based on that, I would like to cover the costs of your replacement iPhone 15.”

He also recounted what Mr. Bryce had told him over the phone, that Budget “had not followed customer service protocols in his case” and “would work to improve this in the future.”

I wrote to Mr. Bryce and Ms. Eatedali to see if anyone wanted to question the authenticity of the email or their characterization of the call, but they did not respond. As for the protocols that Mr. Bryce mentioned to you, major car rental companies like Alamo and Budget have procedures for missing items, including lost property websites that allow customers to report and track the status of abandoned items. And I hope those protocols also include cooperation with police when a customer provides the probable address of the person who may have stolen a phone.

In the case of Alamo John, I got a faster and more detailed response from Enterprise Holdings, which owns Alamo. But it was confusing. Michael Wilmering, a company spokesman, sent a statement noting that the company had apologized and refunded the customer, and also said that an auto detailer found the phone while he was cleaning the car and followed protocol. “He reported the found phone and turned it over to management, which is our standard policy for found items,” Wilmering wrote.

That’s when things become puzzling or suspicious. Alamo John sent me a long series of emails showing that employees at the rental car agency went to considerable effort to find the phone, but it does not clarify why the phone disappeared or why Alamo did not immediately replace the phone that was missing. company claimed to have. Found and lost again.

“Unfortunately, the phone was lost,” Wilmering wrote. “This was a mistake on our part. “We can return the vast majority of lost items to their rightful owners, but we were unable to do so in this case.”

He did not explain why a new number and name were saved on Alamo John’s phone and why the device was used. He also did not mention when this happened, whether before or after the auto detailer handed over the phone.

Something else caught my attention in the exchanges John had with Alamo staff at the Seattle-Tacoma airport: “We have hundreds of items left in vehicles every day,” one employee wrote, asking for patience as he described the process by which lost objects are cataloged in a database.

Apparently I’m not the only one who leaves an average of two charging cables, a pair of sunglasses, and assorted souvenirs when I drop off a rental car.

If you need advice on the best travel plan gone wrong, email TrippedUp@nytimes.com.


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