Heard the one about the airline passenger who carried a five-foot floor lamp on board the plane? How about the man with the 10-foot "tree," complete with a bird's nest?
Then there were the head of a steer, the piano bench, the bicycle, a pole vaulter's very long pole and, in a report that has become airline legend, the recently deceased relative being transported home inside a garment bag.
"It's gotten completely out of control," said Pan Am flight attendant Nancy Flood as she tried to stuff a huge shopping bag filled with Christmas presents into an overhead bin on a New York-to-Washington flight yesterday. "Everybody wants to get everything on board the aircraft they can."
The shopping bag didn't fit.
After Jan. 1, its owner may be asked to check the shopping bag as baggage. The Federal Aviation Administration has issued new rules, which take effect that day, limiting the number of carry-on bags and urging airlines to limit their size to bags that actually can be stored below the seat or in an overhead bin.
"They should have done this years ago," Flood said. "A 6-foot-4 man came on one time and threw his hanging bag at me, and I fell on the floor, it was so heavy. Now I never lift a bag for anyone."
The Association of Flight Attendants petitioned the FAA three years ago to adopt a new rule and finally took its case to Congress last July, with a laundry-list of complaints as examples.
The group cited 1,172 reports of excess carry-on baggage in October 1985 alone, and that, it said, represented a slow month in the airline business.
Even the group's list of odd-size baggage borders on the bizarre. It includes a car door, an aquarium and a small robot that would only fit in the cockpit. In fact, flight attendants said the most difficult items to store are also the most routine: oversize garment bags and Cadillac versions of baby strollers.
Their complaints included those about a passenger with a garment bag too large to pass through the coach aisle; another one with a garment bag that weighed more than 40 pounds and carried, according to the passenger, a week's worth of clothes; the woman with a baby stroller that would not fit overhead (too wide) or under the seat (too long) and did not fold in half.
The attendants also complained that the number of bags in the passenger cabin poses a safety risk in the event of an emergency forcing passengers to exit quickly.
In the 1977 accident at Tenerife in the Canary Islands, where two giant 747s collided on the ground, survivors described having to climb over a mountain of carry-on baggage to reach emergency exits. The death toll was 582.
Although 41 percent of the baggage reports were about items too large to be stowed, the FAA did not adopt specific requirements limiting the number of bags or their size.
"We're not endorsing any of the proposals," said Joanne Sloane, an FAA spokeswoman. "The airlines have got to cure it."
The Air Transport Association, lobbying organization for the nation's major airlines, has proposed that the numer of carry-on bags be limited to two. Exceptions would be handbags, canes or crutches, umbrellas, coats, an infant bag, a camera bag, an infant seat and a reasonable amount of reading material.
Airlines have been reluctant to write specific bag-size requirements, other than stipulating that baggage be stored below the seat or in an overhead bin.
A United Air Lines spokesman said the airline will allow passengers to exceed its two-bag rule in cases when the flight is not full.
Flood and other flight attendants expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the new baggage rule. Flood said it comes too late.
"People don't want to be inconvenienced," she said. "I don't know how you're going to get the bags away from people."