Attack Aftermath: Parcel Carriers Meet the Challenges

Despite the two-day nationwide airport lockdown that followed the Sept. 11 hijackings, delivery disruptions among the parcel carriers were minor. “Our delays were 24-48 hours,” says Federal Express spokesperson Jess Bunn. FedEx resumed air shipping on Sept. 14, the day after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reopened most U.S. airports.

During the flight ban, FedEx tripled its ground capacity, moving most express packages via truck. Rival United Parcel Service also put most of its air/express packages into its ground system. “We had all packages that were shipped out that week delivered by the following Monday, Sept. 17,” says spokesperson Ken Sternad.

Similarly, Airborne Express was able to clear out any backlog of packages over the weekend of Sept. 15 and 16, says spokesperson Robert Mintz. “And by Sept. 17, we were operating as normal.”

In addition to moving many of its air packages to ground delivery, the U.S. Postal Service shipped some parcels by Amtrak trains following the disaster, says spokesperson Greg Frey.

IN THE LONG TERM

Although parcel carriers came through the terrorist attacks relatively unscathed, a few challenges remain.

For one, commercial airlines are running 20% fewer flights overall due to a lack of flyers — leading to fewer flights for carrying parcels. This doesn’t affect the private-sector carriers, such as FedEx and UPS, which transport packages only on their own planes. But the cutbacks, coupled with new FAA regulations that limit the size of packages allowed on commercial airliners, have forced the USPS to seek permanent alternatives for shipping its Priority Mail packages, says Paul Vogel, vice president of network operations management.

Vogel points out that although 50% of Priority Mail packages are shipped on the ground, another 30% or so had been flying on commercial flights, while the remainder were hauled by FedEx or cargo carriers. Now the USPS is trying to get FedEx to carry more Priority Mail packages. FedEx planes already transport virtually all USPS Express Mail packages.

Since the first week following the attack, the number of Priority Mail packages that have been delivered with the expected two to three days has gradually increased, Vogel says. At press time, he was hoping to have delivery back to normal by mid-October.

Also, fears of more terrorism strikes have prompted officials in some areas to search trucks and vans. Nonetheless, “we’ve not seen any delays,” says UPS’s Sternad. He points out that many UPS deliveries are made by the same drivers driving the same trucks into the same locations daily. As a result, scrutiny is minimal since both the drivers and their trucks are familiar sights.

Likewise, Bunn of FedEx reports no delivery delays as a result of its vehicles being subjected to security checks. “Our freight is moving smoothly and efficiently,” Bunn says. “We’re as normal as we were before Sept. 11.”

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