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Back when carry-ons were loosely defined

We were going to Vienna for Douglas Aircraft in 1984, and one of the vice presidents came to my husband, Flip, and asked him for what turned out to be a rather large favor.

He and his wife had been in Vienna a few months previously and had bought an antique clock. They were unable to bring it home with them because its face had to go to a specialty shop to have the numerals repainted. He asked Flip would he please bring this clock home with us when we returned? We were to call the shop when it was close to the time we were leaving, and make arrangements with the owner to pick up the clock.

When we were within a week of leaving, Flip called the clock shop and asked whether the clock was ready for pick up. They said yes, and said they would be happy to package it up for travel and bring it to the airport. We gave him our flight info and it was a done deal. We never saw the clock but knew it was a hugely expensive thing.

As we waited at the airport, along came the owner of the clock shop, pushing a luggage cart which had a huge box on it the size of a small casket.

We were horrified at the sight of the box. The chief of operations took the thing out to the plane and put it god knows where. It wasn't a problem because we were VIPs with the airline, and they made it happen. Flip was terribly embarrassed over this.

At Heathrow, our problem was that he wanted to carry the huge clock as hand luggage, and he needed to get tags from the ticket agent to tie onto the box. He had checked and determined that the flight was only 65% booked, which meant there were plenty of empty seats.

He dragged the casket-sized carton through security and put it on the conveyor belt — he wasn't even sure it was going to fit in the machine, but it did. Then came the tough moment when he would come aboard with the bloody great box.

Miraculously, he showed the tag on the box and they waved him on. He was wearing his Douglas ID, of course, and I supposed it helped. He dragged it down the aisle cool as a cucumber, and set it upright in an empty seat, tilted it back, fastened a seatbelt around it and sat down, burying his head in a magazine, red faced.

The steward came by and looked at the enormous box. He saw Flip's red face, and he leaned over and said, "Don't worry, Mate, I look at it this way: I won't have to give it food and grog all the way across the Atlantic.”

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