Conversations with Ebrahim Akhtar,
airline baggage restoration expert.
Ebrahim Akhtar knows airline baggage inside out. He has more than 30 years of experience in running an independent repair and refurbishing center, with a supply chain that was linked to both domestic Indian, and international airlines.
Ebrahim’s expertise is aligned with managing the entire cycle of operations – right from airport pick-ups, assessing physical and cosmetic damage, and estimating repair costs - followed by a carefully managed repair and overhaul process. So if you found a roller wheel missing, or the sliding handle broken at the airport, your bags would have eventually found their way to his recovery center– equipped to treat bruises, body blows, and missing parts.
And from my conversations with him, I discovered that his job was a labor of love - because a damaged bag has to be painstakingly restored to its original condition. (At least the condition it was when the bag was checked in.) This story is an overview of travel baggage available, and some tips on packing your bags. There’s so much to share, he says, that we might need to pack a lot into our stories. (We might do a series with him, associated with travel bags and travel.)
Over to Ebrahim Akhtar.
Travel light, and think outside the bag…
Packing your travel bags isn’t rocket science, but like grandmother stories, you need to hear this from a wise old man. Luckily, for most of us, the packing process gets easier with a little experience. You learn what to include, and more importantly, what to leave out. (Yes, that’s even more important when you’re packing for a vacation.)
Large bags, packed to capacity and bursting at the seams are a common sight at railway stations and airports. And you would need an extra pair of hands to wrestle that bag from the boot of the car and heave it onto the trolley.
Frequent flyers prefer sleek, rolling bags designed to fit snugly inside overhead compartments on your aircraft. Not-so-frequent fliers need some help in choosing the right bags, and some assistance in how to optimize storage inside the bag and ensure some breathing space.
Pick the right bags, with your eyes wide open.
Step One: Don’t look for cosmetics - look for a bag that survives. If you're packing a carry-on, make sure it complies with your airline’s carry-on rules, because they are constantly changing the rules on baggage allowance, bag profile sizes, and permitted weights.
There is no ideal cabin bag. A soft duffel bag can be handy because it is squishy and can easily fit into the overhead locker, or stowed under a seat. Soft luggage is made of waterproof hard-wearing nylon material and comes with sturdy zippers and washable nylon lining. Pick a bag with smooth-rolling wheels that are noiseless. Hard-case luggage is available in several base-material options - polypropylene, high-density polyethylene, or lightweight polycarbonate. Newer flexi-rigid materials are also increasingly being used to make the bag lightweight, yet sturdy.
A good brand will give you a wide range of soft and hard luggage options, though I prefer soft luggage because it survives a soft landing better when tossed around during loading or unloading operations.
I have often wondered if we need different sets of bags for holidays and work-related travel. If you’re vacationing with a large family, the same large hard case or soft case bags will do - add individual backpacks for long walks and treks.
The advantage of packing for vacations is that you will (by default) travel light –t-shirts, shorts, and other vacation accessories. If you have parents coming along, you would need to plan around their needs - medication, weather-related clothing, and things like that.
Choosing the right bags is half the story.
Step Two: Think smart, pack smarter. When the contents of the entire wardrobe are on your bed you’ll have more questions than answers. A good way to start the process (believe me, this has worked) is to eliminate what you don’t need on your vacation. Once you have done that, it’s easy – you have fewer clothes to choose from.
One more tip. Depending on where you’re going, and how long you’re going to stay there, you could start with the essentials. For each day, start with footwear/socks and slowly move upwards – include a tie if you’re going to be part of a formal event.
The guideline here is to pack for four days if you are going away for six –meaning some things can always be worn more than once. Importantly, pack in layers, and steps – it helps you pack more, in less. I carry ONE bag when most others will end up carrying TWO. I have traveled all over the US for one whole month with just one cabin bag.
Something for wallets, documents, and cash.
A waist pouch, fanny-pack, or sling bag is very useful for keeping documents for quick and easy access - passports, travel documents, ID papers, and RT/PCR test reports. Waist pouches also have a safe inner section for cash, cards, and more. With some luck, you can always slip in wet wipes, face masks, and keys. It leaves both your hands free to carry other baggage.
Postscript: For Ebrahim, all work came to a halt during the Covid pandemic – with no flights in the air, no bags were coming in for repairs. A business that took more than 30 years to establish virtually disappeared overnight like many others with connects in the airline industry. However, he is willing to assist and share his business plan with any seriously committed entrepreneur willing to take up and continue this line of business. He can inspire you to keep the wheels turning.
Images 01 and 02 by Ebrahim Akhtar; Image 03 by Timur Weber on pexels.com; Image 04 by P.S. Gopinath; Image 05 by Hana Brannigan on pexels.com; Image 06 by Vlada Karpovich on pexels.com
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