How I Smuggled a Guitar onto an Airplane

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I pride myself on being an excellent gift-giver. 

When I was nine, I gave my best friend clothes for her American Girl doll. As a teenager, I bought my mom a copy of her favorite painting. So, when I studied abroad in Rome spring semester of my junior year, I took the opportunity to try to find the perfect souvenir for all of my friends and family members. 

It was during my spring break in Santorini, Greece, that I found the perfect gift for my sister. I was feeling guilty at the time because I had missed her seventeenth birthday, so whatever I found for her had to be impressive enough to double as a souvenir and birthday gift. When I saw a 70 euro handcrafted guitar at a music store, I knew I’d found what I called “the gift of a lifetime.”

My sister had always dreamed of playing the guitar, and this one was relatively cheap and handmade on a Greek island. What could possibly be more perfect?

I immediately bought it, ignoring my friend who was already asking, “How are you going to get that home?”

Our flight the next morning was to Athens. Transporting the guitar from Santorini to Athens was a cake walk, mainly because the Santorini airport had security so lax it was almost alarming. 

Once in Athens, the problems began. The city is built on limestone hills. Imagine being five-foot-two, carrying an overstuffed duffle bag, a guitar and a box of baklava while wandering around Athens for about an hour trying to find the apartment where you’re staying. To make matters worse, I had completely worn out my shoes while exploring a volcano in Santorini, so they had no traction.

Of course, I fell on my face a block away from the apartment.

“The guitar!” I screamed. The guitar had a scratch on it, but considering it had just been smacked off a limestone curb, I wasn’t going to complain. (I also sustained a “minor” scratch on the side of my foot, and–like the guitar–I still have a scar six months later.)

The next part of the journey was the flight from Athens to Rome. Putting the guitar with the rest of the baggage wasn’t an option. The guitar didn’t have a case unless you count a padding-less bright orange plastic bag. I knew all that would be left of the guitar after the flight would be a collection of wood splinters.

Obviously the only logical thing to do was to take the guitar as a carry-on. This brought up two problems: First, I already had a carry-on and after buying presents for my family, friends, my family’s friends, my pet and myself, I wasn’t willing or able to spend 50 extra euro to put my duffle bag in baggage. Secondly, although the guitar was roughly three-fourths the size of a standard guitar, it was still too long to fit in the bin labeled, “All carry-on items must fit in here.”

Clearly, I had to sneak the guitar on the plane. 

My friends were supportive, yet slightly concerned. As we lined up to board, a flight attendant watched to make sure everyone was only taking one carry-on. I maneuvered the guitar so that it was blocked by my body and my duffel bag.  I had a moment of fear when the passenger in front of me was stopped and forced to put her backpack in baggage. To the shock of my friends and myself, the flight attendant didn’t notice the string instrument slung over my back.

Once on the plane, I put my duffel bag in the overhead and then secured the guitar upright between my feet. I draped my jacket over the guitar, so it just looked I needed to warm up my legs. Once more, the flight attendant walked by to make sure everything was in its proper place, and didn’t even look twice at my lumpy jacket.

It may have seemed impossible, but I’d actually pulled it off.

On the flight back to the U.S., I did the responsible thing and asked for permission to take the guitar on the plane. Luckily, I only had to put it in overhead storage.

I spent the whole flight on edge, hearing it banging around above me with every jump and jolt of the plane. Mystifyingly, it was all in once piece when we landed–a few battle scratches the only evidence that it had ever been basically a piece of contraband.

When I presented the guitar to my sister, she was so happy she almost started to cry in a rare display of emotion. I realized that even though the guitar acquired some scratches and myself some gray hair, nothing could get in the way of me giving the perfect gift.

Elizabeth Lowman is a senior journalism major at the American University. She can usually be found eating cupcakes or petting other people’s dogs, sometimes at the same time.

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