Florida woman’s Apple Watch traces lost luggage to airport worker’s home

A Spirit Airlines commercial airliner flies after taking off from Las Vegas International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., February 8, 2024. REUTERS/Mike Blake

A shop worker at a South Florida airport was charged with stealing thousands of dollars in electronics and clothing after a woman showed up to his home looking for missing luggage that she tracked to his address by using a signal from her Apple Watch.

An arrest affidavit for Junior Geneus Bazile, 29, was filed in March but did not name the woman. However, Paola Garcia told Local 10 News this week that she was the passenger involved in the incident at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. According to the affidavit, the pink suitcase contained an Apple MacBook, an iPad, an Apple Watch, jewelry and high-end women’s clothing, worth more than $5,000 in total.

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The affidavit from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office says Garcia’s flight was canceled and passengers were advised to retrieve their luggage from a carousel at the airport. She told the local news station she stood waiting for the bag, which contained a laptop she needed for her university studies, at a carousel for at least two hours. But it never arrived. Garcia told Local 10 News that she normally carries the bag on board with her, but on this occasion, Spirit Airlines employees forced her to check it.

When she used an Apple feature to “ping” her electronic items, she discovered they were at a home in Fort Lauderdale. She traveled to the address the following day and was unable to make contact with the residents. She told police that she saw several pieces of luggage, but none were hers, according to the affidavit.

A detective then searched for the address in internal employee databases from the airport, and discovered it was a match for Bazile, who was at work at a store in the airport on the day the luggage disappeared.

CCTV footage showed Bazile entering the storage room of the shop he worked at with a pink hard-shell roller bag, matching the description of Garcia’s stolen luggage. After placing the suitcase underneath the desk, he took out a MacBook and other items, which he placed into separate bags.

It is unclear how or when the suitcase was taken. According to Local 10 News, Garcia’s items were not recovered.

Paradies Lagardère, where Bazile worked, said in an emailed statement Thursday that the company “takes this matter very seriously. Immediately upon learning of the incident, this employee was terminated.” Bazile was charged with grand theft and has a hearing set for August.

Spirit Airlines said in an email that although it was “not aware of any evidence that any Spirit employee was involved,” it issued a reimbursement check to the passenger “as a courtesy.”

A lawyer for Bazile did not immediately respond to overnight requests for comment.

This is not the first time that passenger electronics have been used to uncover theft by airport workers: In 2022, an airline subcontractor in Florida was charged with two counts of grand theft after investigators cross-referenced the last location of an Apple AirTag in a missing suitcase with the addresses of nearby employees, leading them to a home containing more than $16,000 in stolen items.

But the case has once again brought attention to the issue of missing and stolen luggage - and what to do if your own belongings go missing while you’re traveling.

U.S. Department of Transportation figures for January to March of this year found that more than 650,000 bags on direct domestic flights were mishandled - or 0.58 per 100 of those placed on board. The figure represents a slight decrease from almost 700,000 over the same period last year. (The figures do not break down the number of lost or stolen items.)

If your bag is lost, the airline is responsible for returning it, so the first step is to file a claim at the airline’s baggage desk.

You may be entitled to compensation - or the cost of your checked-bag fee - but this can vary between airlines, and you’ll need to hold on to any receipts if you’re trying to recoup the costs of replacement items.

Travel insurance is important to protect you if your luggage is lost or stolen, the experts say. Make sure your items are easily identifiable and take photos of them in case you need to file a report, and try to include your address on both the outside and the inside of the luggage.

Try not to check your bags if at all possible - although this may not always be practical for travelers or, as Garcia’s case shows, even an option.

You can also consider placing Apple AirTags or other location tracking devices inside your suitcase, though you’ll need to make sure they’re compatible with your phone. The Federal Aviation Administration says lithium-powered trackers are allowed in checked luggage, with some limits.

And if you do find your item isn’t where it’s supposed to be, make sure to inform the police rather than trying to track it down in person.

As Garcia told Local 10 News of police’s response when they heard she had gone to the address: “The first thing the police told me was like, ‘What are you doing here? This is so dangerous for you to be here.’”

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Natalie B. Compton contributed to this report.

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