USPS: Letters, Cards Up 78 Million for Holidays

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Seventy-eight million more letters and cards were postmarked this holiday season versus last year, postmaster general John E. Potter told the U.S. Postal Service's Board of Governors yesterday at its monthly meeting.

"Americans waited almost to the last minute to mail their holiday cards and packages," Potter said. "Volume was down through mid-December. Then, six days before Christmas, we experienced heavy customer mailings."

A record 3.4 billion cards and letters were postmarked Dec. 1-24. Postmarks on Dec. 22 rose 25 percent over last year. From Thanksgiving to Christmas the USPS handled more than 20 billion pieces of mail. On the busiest day, Dec. 15, more than 850 million pieces entered the postal system. Dec. 17 was the year's busiest delivery day, with about 1 billion pieces.

Americans also continued to use the mail to show support for loved ones in the military. The more than 24 million pounds of holiday mail to the Persian Gulf and other military locations worldwide surpassed last year's volume by 11 million pounds, or almost 85 percent.

Prior to the holiday period, military mail to the Gulf region was transported daily on a chartered 747 aircraft. To transport mail in December, 52 chartered aircraft carried about 7 million pounds of mail to military service members deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Though hundreds of trucks were added to create direct routes between metropolitan areas, the need for additional holiday hires was reduced to about 13,000 from last year's 20,000 thanks to advances in mail-processing technology. High-speed sorting equipment can process nearly 80 percent of all handwritten addressed mail.

Two weeks prior to Christmas, the postal service's National and Area Operations Center network operated around the clock. About that time, the USPS expanded the capacity of its air cargo network nearly 40 percent. The network shared information on operations and mail flow between mail-processing and distribution centers and with major mailing customers. averages about 500,000 visits daily, but on Dec. 15, the busiest mailing day, it generated more than 1.2 million hits -- almost doubling last year's peak of nearly 700,000. Customers visiting the site can buy stamps, calculate postage, look up ZIP codes, track and confirm mail delivery, change their address and ask to have their mail held.

In other activity, board chairman S. David Fineman detailed USPS efforts to enhance its financial reporting that began in August. The board also re-elected Fineman, of Philadelphia, as chairman and John F. Walsh of Branford, CT, as vice chairman. The next board meeting is Feb. 2-3 in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

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