Carriers Prepped for Uncertain Holiday Volume

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The holiday rush may not be so hectic this year as carriers expect package volume to be about the same as last year.

However, several wild cards -- the economy, world events and a shorter Thanksgiving-to-Christmas season -- make forecasts tougher to predict.

The U.S. Postal Service is planning for either the same 5 percent increase in volume it saw last year for Parcel Post and Priority Mail packages or a decrease by as much as 5 percent.

"Our expectation is that the economy is going to stay soft through Christmas, but that is not going to stop people from buying Christmas presents," said Paul Vogel, vice president of network operations management at the USPS.

The postal service will use 44 of its own planes during the holidays, half of what it used last year. It will rely more on FedEx as part of an alliance struck last year, and it will increase the use of its trucks.

"We have realigned our networks and have looked at greater and greater efficiencies, allowing us to reduce the number of dedicated airplanes that we use and rely on ground transportation much more extensively," Vogel said. "We are expecting to save about $30 million from these efficiencies this season."

The postal service expects to ship 4.3 million pounds of mail via FedEx planes this year, up from 3.5 million last year. No numbers were available on how much the USPS will ship by truck.

In previous years, the USPS added 20,000 to 40,000 temporary workers during the holiday season, but Vogel said it will be "a lot less than 20,000" this year. He attributed much of that reduction to automation improvements.

USPS and United Parcel Service are concerned about the Nov. 28 date for Thanksgiving, which is later than previous years. Business customers understand that this means less shopping time until Christmas and will advise customers about sufficient shipping time, but customers may wait too long to order their presents.

"Thanksgiving is very late this year, and every time it is late we see some unusual patterns," Vogel said.

UPS' volume from Thanksgiving to Christmas is expected to be 300 million packages, down from 325 million last year. UPS expects volume to crest Dec. 19 at 18 million air and ground packages globally. On the air side, UPS predicts the peak will be Dec. 24 with more than 4.5 million packages delivered worldwide, more than double the normal average.

Nationwide, UPS is hiring almost 60,000 extra driver helpers and package sorters. More than 1,300 UPS flights will take off daily the week before Christmas compared with 900 flights normally. To accommodate extra air volume, UPS will add more than a dozen large jets to its 600 aircraft.

At FedEx, its Express service does not plan to add holiday help. The Ground division will add workers in expectation of a package volume increase of 20 percent, but the company would not say how many will be hired.

FedEx anticipates that FedEx Ground will handle more than 2.5 million packages Nov. 27, its busiest night for ground service because the majority of its users are retailers who want their shelves stocked for the day after Thanksgiving.

Average volume is more than 2 million packages daily. FedEx Express is expected to reach more than 5 million packages Dec. 19, up from the average of 3 million daily. FedEx would not discuss expected overall package volume for the holiday season.


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