Blaze Reporter Mike Opelka Details Good TSA Story

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has certainly taken its lumps. However, today we salute the men and women who work at airports and transportation hubs around the country. Thanks to a diligent and thoughtful TSA worker, this reporter was able to recover one of his most essential possessions: a briefly-lost iPhone.

If you don’t think that a smartphone is vital to a reporter on the road, consider the information it holds.

  • Phone numbers — especially those dozens of new contacts added during the convention — the ones not yet backed up on your laptop
  • Audio recordings of interviews conducted during the week for stories to be written later.
  • Photos and videos from the previous day – priceless pictures captured during magical moments during the final night of the RNC. For example:

Blaze Reporter Mike Opelka Details Good TSA Story

Yes, that is me with CNN regular, James Carville. He did claim to know TheBlaze, but would not put on a Blaze branded cap for the picture. There are more photos, dozens more, from the convention that would have been forever lost, had the TSA not been so helpful.

Here’s how the phone went missing, was recovered by the TSA, and returned to me in less than an hour. (Apple computer should get some of the credit. After all, it was their technology that allowed me to locate the phone and send a message to it.)

Early this morning. (we’re talking before 5am), I was trudging through the familiar travel ritual of returning a rental car, checking baggage and then navigating the security screening maze at the Tampa airport. Despite my post-RNC, sleep-deprived condition, I had passed through all of the check points and was in the US Airways gate area when the realization hit me — my phone was missing!

After searching my computer bag and pockets twice, I decided it was likely at the bag check-in area or the rental car. Approaching a TSA agent for advice on how much time it would take to exit, go outside to the rental car return and again go through security, I was told hardly any time at all. My ticket had already been validated by an agent. All I needed to do was show my TSA agent-initialed boarding pass and I would be moved to the head of the screening line.

First I sprinted through the terminal to the Hertz counter. No luck.

Next was a stop by the baggage check-in desk and the friendly US Airways rep who remembered me, but had not seen my phone.

All hope seemed to be lost. Back through the security gauntlet (and the TSA did scoot me past dozens of others, right to the head of the line) and on to my gate where the flight was due to start boarding in minutes. And then, I remembered that I installed an app on my computer, iPad and iPhone called “Find My Phone.” Quickly opening up my MacBook Air, I logged into my iCloud account and hit the Find My iPhone page.

Apple describes the free software this way:

If you misplace your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Mac, the Find My iPhone app will let you use another iOS device to find it and protect your data. Simply install this free app on another iOS device, open it, and sign in with your Apple ID. Find My iPhone will help you locate your missing device on a map.You can then choose to display a message or play a sound, remotely lock your device, or erase your data on it.

As I was reading this, the airline started boarding. Carrying the open laptop onto the plane, I logged into my account and saw my device listed as “enabled” and I clicked on the “Find My iPhone” button. Within seconds, I was staring at a map of the Tampa Airport showing a blinking light indicating that my iPhone was very close. (image re-created for this story)

Blaze Reporter Mike Opelka Details Good TSA Story

 

And yet, the plane was boarding and scheduled to take off within 15 minutes. Thankfully, the Apple tracking program did offer some options.

Blaze Reporter Mike Opelka Details Good TSA Story

With the jet now nearly full, and take off just minutes away, I fired off a message to the phone:

Blaze Reporter Mike Opelka Details Good TSA Story

If there was no answer to my plea, I intended to hit the “Remote Wipe” option.

It could not have been more than a minute that my other phone was ringing. (Yes, I am one of those geeks with two cell phones.) The TSA was on the line announcing the good news, my phone was in safe hands. Explaining that I was already on my flight and in my seat, just five minutes from our scheduled take off, the agent simply said, “Gate 88, no problem.”

In minutes my phone was delivered by a smiling, uniformed TSA agent who turned around and took off so quickly that I could not offer the reward promised in my message. Hopefully, someone in the administration will see this (there must be at least one Blaze reader on staff), and let the Tampa office know that their work is appreciated.

This is one of those times I was glad the TSA had its hands on my personal property.