May 11, 2022

I lost my Pixel phone in New York, but against all odds I got it back

By Rebecca Spear last updated about 9 hours ago

You don’t realize how much you use your phone until you lose it.

Pixel 5a phone lost in New York

Lost phone in New York City (Image credit: Android Central)Jump to:

The number of phones that go missing each day in New York City must be staggering. America’s biggest city is home to over 8.5 million residents and hosts an enormous number of tourists on any given day. So when someone says they lost their phone in NYC, you say, “that’s rough, buddy,” and suggest a new phone for them. But as I learned, if that person uses all of the resources at their disposal and gets lucky, they might just be able to get their phone back.

Last week, I left my Pixel 5a in a taxi almost immediately after flying into NYC for a work trip. Thanks to a mixture of luck, persistence, some very kind people, and Google’s convenient Find My Device feature, I was able to get my phone back the next day even though the person that found it didn’t want to give it up.


Taxi driving in New York
(Image credit: @KaiPilger on Pixabay)

Let’s set the scene. I was already tired when my plane landed in New York since my flight had been delayed, and then it had taken five leg-cramping hours to reach my destination. Before I could get out of my seat, we were informed that someone on the plane needed medical attention, and passengers weren’t allowed to leave until this person was helped off. I was happy to comply, hoping this elderly person could get the assistance they needed.Sponsored LinksDo You Speak English? You can work remotely from Pakistan for a USA employerUSA Job from Home | Search Ads

After 20-30 minutes, the individual left, but we were told to hang tight a bit longer since there had apparently been an altercation on the flight, and we needed to wait for the police to escort someone off of the plane. Needless to say, by the time I finally got into an airport taxi to head to my hotel, it was hours later than previously planned and dark out. RECOMMENDED VIDEOS FOR YOU…CLOSE seconds of 59 secondsVolume 0% PLAY SOUND

The taxi driver was nice but a little hard of hearing, so I had to remind him where my hotel was several times during the course of the trip. I had my Android phone track our destination since I wasn’t sure the driver was leading us to the proper spot. By the time we pulled up to my lodgings, I was tired, nervous for the next day, and ready to sleep. A combo that would lead to a very big mistake.

The customer service rep on the phone told me it was lucky that I had the taxi receipt as this included the cab’s Medallion Number, which could be used to track the driver down.

After making the payment, the driver asked if I wanted a receipt. I’m so happy that I said yes as this would be important for later. After getting the long piece of paper in hand, I gathered up my bags, my paperwork for checking in, and my wallet before exiting the vehicle.

I noticed my Pixel 5a wasn’t on me as soon as I walked into the hotel lobby and patted my empty pockets. I turned around horrified, prepared to run out the door and chase after the cab that had dropped me off, but it was already gone. Wide-eyed, I realized that the phone screen wasn’t even locked because it had been running Google Maps, so anyone that got in the cab after me could access my apps. 

The hotel receptionist was kind enough to let me use their desk phone to call my cell. I dialed twice, but no one picked up. So then with the hotel staff’s suggestion, I called 311, NYC’s service for reporting things like noise complaints, lost property, or abandoned vehicles.  

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)


The 311 customer service rep told me it was lucky that I had the taxi receipt as this included the cab’s Medallion Number, which could be used to track the driver down. I felt a surge of hope. However, after a quick search, the rep informed me that the cab didn’t seem to be affiliated with any taxi company and so there wasn’t any phone number to call. My hope deflated. I was then informed that I would get an update on the case within seven days. In other words, I’d already reached a dead end.

At this point, I couldn’t stop my mind from thinking back to one of the most-watched movies from my youth — Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. How Kevin managed to navigate the city before the time of convenient phones, I’ll never know. What I did know was that my phone was alone wandering the streets, and like Kevin’s mother, I wasn’t sure I’d ever see him again. But I was going to do everything I could to get my Pixel 5a back.


Google Find My Device Pixel 5a
(Image credit: Android Central )

I took the elevator to my room on the 12th floor, opened my laptop, and logged onto the hotel’s Wi-Fi. Knowing that I had already set up Find My Device on my Pixel, my fingers flew across the keys as I anxiously typed, “Where is my phone?” into Google Chrome. After a few seconds, the green phone icon pinpointed my phone’s location on the screen. There it was, moving all over Times Square. 

That’s when I noticed there were three buttons on the side of the Find My Device map: Play Sound, Secure Device, and Erase Device. Quick as a flash, I clicked on the Secure Device button, remembering that my phone hadn’t been locked when I left the cab. This allowed me to not only lock the phone remotely but also to let me leave a recovery message on the screen along with my husband’s phone number. At least now I knew that my apps with all of their financial ties couldn’t be accessed, which was some relief. 

With the message and number in place, I clicked on the Play Sound button, which said it would make my Pixel 5a ring for 5 minutes even if it was on silent. I figured the driver or the next person to take a ride would find it. After waiting a few minutes, I picked up my hotel room phone and called my cell over and over, hoping someone would pick up, but no one did. In the meantime, my laptop continued to show my phone, making the rounds all over the city. Unfortunately, it was seeing more of the Big Apple than I was. 



Google Pixel 5a with Find My Device message
(Image credit: Android Central)

After making my phone ring several more times and attempting to call it, I finally realized that I had to give up for the evening since I had to prepare for a big meeting the next day. Reluctantly, I pulled myself away from my laptop, took the elevator down to the ground floor, and went searching for food at 12 a.m. 

Fortunately, this is a city that never sleeps, so there were plenty of food stands to choose from in Times Square, which was near my hotel. I had planned on getting something nicer to eat, but instead, I stuck close to the hotel, afraid I’d get lost without my phone. I don’t even know how often I felt the urge to look something up or take pictures while surrounded by those massive screens and advertisements. But I couldn’t. To some extent, I felt naked, incomplete, and underequipped without all of the resources my phone provides. 

I brought my bagged dinner back to my tiny Animal Crossing-sized room, sat in front of my laptop, and gazed at my phone’s location while I ate my chicken and rice. My

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