Short Shipping Season Puts Squeeze on Cargo Companies

UPS, FedEx, others rushing to deliver record number of packages after late Thanksgiving

By Matt Neistein

Published December 9, 2019

Read Time: 2 mins


A quirk of the calendar is putting a crunch on cargo companies this holiday season.

Thanksgiving fell on Nov. 28, the first time it’s been that late since 2013. That means Black Friday, the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season, also came later, on Nov. 29, giving cargo and delivery companies only 25 days to get gifts on doorsteps by Christmas Eve.

And with e-commerce continuing to claim a greater share of the retail marketplace, those companies will have to move more packages than ever – an estimated nearly 2.5 billion globally this season – on that shortened timeline.

By comparison, in 2013, the number of packages delivered was just more than 1 billion.

To handle the load, firms like UPS and FedEx, as well as the U.S. Postal Service, are ramping up hiring, scheduling more cargo flights and trucks, and tightening schedules as much as possible to make sure everyone has presents to open on Hanukkah (which begins on Dec. 22 this year) and Christmas.

To handle an average of 32 million packages a day this season, about 50 percent more than normal, UPS will lease several dozen jets and hire 100,000 seasonal employees, including airport ramp workers and pilots.

All of that comes on top of the company’s continuing efforts to keep up with delivering digital purchases.

Qatar Airways, FedEx and UPS currently operate cargo service at Pittsburgh International Airport. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

“UPS has significantly added to its network capacity, both air and ground, to respond to the growth in e-commerce,” said spokesman Jim Mayer. “In the past two years, we have built or retrofitted 40 automated sorting hubs across the country, adding the capacity to process an additional 800,000 packages per hour.”

Pittsburgh International Airport, which serves UPS and FedEx cargo routes, will see some of the effects of those seasonal upgrades, likely with more and larger aircraft coming through during the next couple of weeks.

FedEx projected it would carry 33 million packages on Cyber Monday and double its typical daily average on the following two Mondays. Officials said the company was prepared to meet the increased demand.

“We recognized early on that e-commerce would transform the way our customers shop and ship, and we have invested in a world-class network that flexes to meet volume demands throughout the year,” said Brie Carere, executive vice president, chief marketing and communications officer.

In 2018, FedEx carried more than 120 million pounds of cargo to and from Pittsburgh International Airport, with about 9.8 million pounds, or 8 percent, occurring in December. UPS carried about 56 million pounds last year with about 5.7 million pounds, or approximately 10 percent, occurring in December.


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