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Transportation

U.S. Postal Service Shifting International Air Mail to Sea Transport During COVID-19

Container ship

The U.S. Postal Service advised that it is shifting some international shipments from air transport to sea transport due to limited air cargo capacity resulting from the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency.

In its advisory, the postal service provided details about the first sea transport shipment to Rotterdam (Netherlands) that includes mail and parcels to select European countries.

It did not state if this is to Europe only or if it will make this operational shift to other continents as well. However, USPS said this option would remain in effect until sufficient air transportation capacity becomes available.

Latest Sea Transport Details (Third Shipment) – 5/16/2020

On May 15, 2020, a third sea transport departed with volume from the Chicago, JFK, and Miami International Service Centers and is estimated to arrive at the Rotterdam (Netherlands) port on June 9, 2020.

Sea route arrival dates are not exact and may vary depending on weather-related events and queuing at the port of arrival. The vessel is carrying 24,013 receptacles in twenty-two (22) containers weighing 143,807 kilograms. It is serving mail destined to:

Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Finland, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland (Geneva and Zurich).

Surface transport estimated timeline after arrival in Rotterdam: Unloading (1-2 days), Customs Clearance (2 days), Transit to Central Sorting at Den Hague (1 day), Acceptance and Sorting (2-3 days), Road transit to the delivery address (1-4 days).

Second Sea Transport (Second Shipment)

On April 27, 2020, a second sea transport departed with volume from the Chicago, JFK, and Miami International Service Centers and is estimated to arrive at the Rotterdam (Netherlands) port on May 15, 2020.

Sea route arrival dates are not exact and may vary depending on weather-related events and queuing at the port of arrival. The vessel is carrying 6,382 receptacles in six (6) containers weighing 33,593 kilograms.

It is serving mail destined to Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Finland, Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland (Geneva and Zurich).

Surface transport estimated timeline after arrival in Rotterdam: Unloading (1-2 days), Customs Clearance (2 days), Transit to Central Sorting at Den Hague (1 day), Acceptance and Sorting (2-3 days), Road transit to the delivery address (1-4 days).

First Sea Transport Details

The first sea transport departed from the JFK International Service Center on April 20, 2020 and is estimated to arrive at the Rotterdam (Netherlands) port on May 7, 2020.

Sea route arrival dates are not exact and may vary depending on weather-related events and queuing at the port of arrival. The first vessel is carrying 6,036 receptacles in 5 containers weighing 32,768 kilograms.

It is serving mail destined to Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Switzerland.

Surface transport estimated timeline after arrival in Rotterdam: Unloading (1-2 days), Customs Clearance (2 days), Transit to Central Sorting at Den Hague (1 day), Acceptance and Sorting (2-3 days), Road transit to the delivery address (1-4 days).

In the old days when sea transport was more common, 4 to 6 week transport time from pick up to delivery was typical. It seems based on the timeline provided by the U.S. Postal Service on the first shipment that has not changed.

Service Levels Affected by This Shift to Sea Transport

The advisory was issued for:

  • Priority Mail Express International (PMEI)
  • Priority Mail International (PMI)
  • First-Class Mail International (FCMI)
  • First-Class Package International Service (FCPIS)
  • International Priority Airmail (IPA)
  • International Surface Air Lift (ISAL)
  • M-Bag items

Presumably, Global Express Guaranteed Service (unless explicitly suspended in its international bulletins) will continue to be transported by air via air cargo partners.

It is also unclear how USPS prioritizes mail to be placed on sea freight. For example, will faster service levels such as Priority Mail Express move ahead of the line of slower mail classes on the next available sea transport?

This shift from air cargo to sea transport is an interesting development and also one that indicates the U.S. Postal Service expects air cargo capacity limitations to continue for some time.

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