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Louisville, KY - Inside The Madness As UPS Rushes To Deliver Holiday Gifts In Time

Published on: December 21, 2015 10:02 PM
By: AP
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In this Nov. 20, 2015 photo, UPS workers guide a container across a floor containing casters after it was unloaded from an airplane at Worldport in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)In this Nov. 20, 2015 photo, UPS workers guide a container across a floor containing casters after it was unloaded from an airplane at Worldport in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Louisville, KY - The humming is constant; a low-pitched drone from 155 miles of conveyor belts racing packages in every direction. Boxes shift from one belt to another and bump into a metal wall. Thud. Thud. Thud. In the background, trucks beep and jet engines roar.

Forget jingling bells and ho-ho-hos, these are now the sounds of the holidays.

As more gift-givers shop online, there are more packages to ship. Online sales now account for 10 percent of all shopping and 15 percent during the holidays, according to research firm Forrester. That leaves FedEx and UPS with a combined 947 million packages to deliver between Black Friday and Christmas Eve — up 8 percent from last holiday season’s forecasts.

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For UPS, the key to getting all those last-second orders delivered on time is Worldport, a massive sorting facility located between the Louisville airport’s two main runways. On a typical night, 1.6 million packages pass through. Just before Christmas, there can be 4 million, peaking on Monday night.

(UPS plans to deliver about 36 million packages on Tuesday, its busiest day of the year, up from 35 million last year. That includes all of Worldport’s shipments plus those traveling by truck.)

Standing next to the runways just after midnight, jet headlights can be seen lined up miles away. Every 60 seconds another plane lands on one of the two parallel runways and pulls up to the facility — the size of 90 football fields — to unload its goods.

If everything goes right, the packages are just touched twice by humans: first when pulled out of large aircraft shipping containers and then again at the end of their journey through the conveyors and into a new bin and another jet.

In this Nov. 20, 2015 photo, parcels make their way along some of Worldport's 155 miles of conveyor belts in Louisville, Ky. If everything goes right, the packages are just touched twice by humans: first when pulled out of large aircraft shipping containers and then again at the end of their journey through the conveyors and into a new bin and another jet. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)In this Nov. 20, 2015 photo, parcels make their way along some of Worldport's 155 miles of conveyor belts in Louisville, Ky. If everything goes right, the packages are just touched twice by humans: first when pulled out of large aircraft shipping containers and then again at the end of their journey through the conveyors and into a new bin and another jet. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The past two years have been rough for express shippers.

In 2013, they underestimated American’s growing fervor for online shopping. Throw in bad weather, and deliveries backed up. Some gifts didn’t arrive in time for Christmas. UPS and Fedex spent heavily last year to ensure better performance, but still had some major hiccups. Staples, Toys ‘R Us, Best Buy, Crate & Barrel, J.C. Penney and Kohl’s were among the retailers who missed delivery to at least one part of the country, according to industry tracking firm StellaService.

To prevent similar mishaps, UPS and FedEx have been working with major retailers to hone their forecasts and have scheduled their extra holiday workers to better meet the shipping spikes right after Thanksgiving and the weekend before Christmas. Some third-party tracking services have signaled a few issues with 2015 deliveries but UPS spokesman Mike Mangeot said last week that more than 96 percent of packages are being delivered on time in December and that UPS expects packages to arrive by Christmas.

In this Nov. 20, 2015 photo, Rachel Fryer prepares to place a package inside a container behind her at Worldport in Louisville, Ky. Each container typically holds about 400 packages. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)In this Nov. 20, 2015 photo, Rachel Fryer prepares to place a package inside a container behind her at Worldport in Louisville, Ky. Each container typically holds about 400 packages. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“In many cases customers are receiving the packages earlier than promised as we are advancing deliveries to make sure the network remains ready for any spikes as last-minute Christmas shipping approaches,” says Mangeot.

At first glance, Kentucky doesn’t seem like the epicenter of holiday shipping.

After all, Louisville isn’t the geographic center of the U.S. And this city of 600,000 people is hardly the largest in the country. Best known for its wooden baseball bats and being home to the Kentucky Derby, the city does, however, have relatively good weather and a geography that is perfect for shipping. (FedEx has a similar operation in Memphis, Tennessee.)

“It’s just an ideal location for us,” says Gary Kelley, manager of the UPS next day shipping division at Worldport. “We are within two hours (flying time) of 75 percent of the population and within four hours of 95 percent.”

And when you are rushing packages overnight, that proximity to the country’s largest cities matters.

A plane from Seattle might be carrying overnight packages bound for New York, Miami or Chicago. It will stop in Kentucky. All the boxes and envelopes are unloaded, likely by college students pulling the ultimate all-nighter — they make up 70 percent of the employees here.

Next, the packages go onto conveyers where red lasers scan labels and then the system automatically sorts the boxes and directs them to new shipping containers. UPS has 38,000 such containers and they typically hold about 400 packages. Workers load them back up and then drag the heavy containers across a floor of rollers back onto various planes that head out around the globe.

Up to 416,000 packages can be processed each hour.

Typically, it only takes 13 minutes for a package to travel the web of belts and chutes. In a five hour period, 130 planes have landed, unloaded, reloaded and returned to the skies. In another part of the complex, 300 trucks do a similar dance.

The only thing faster: Americans purchasing a new round of goods online.

In this Nov. 20, 2015 photo, a package rides a conveyor belt through a scan tunnel in Louisville, Ky. The lasers scan shipping labels and determine parcels' dimensions, allowing Worldport's systems to automatically sort and direct them to their correct destinations within the facility. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)In this Nov. 20, 2015 photo, a package rides a conveyor belt through a scan tunnel in Louisville, Ky. The lasers scan shipping labels and determine parcels' dimensions, allowing Worldport's systems to automatically sort and direct them to their correct destinations within the facility. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)


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Read Comments (8)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Dec 21, 2015 at 10:20 PM Applestein Says:

Remind me again how is this news for the Jewish world?

2

 Dec 21, 2015 at 10:39 PM mugsisme Says:

Reply to #1  
Applestein Says:

Remind me again how is this news for the Jewish world?

I sell on eBay. I don't use Fed ex, or UPS. I do have to give credit to USPS. Ba'h they did a fantastic job this year delivering packages! I'm more that pleased.
That said, sales were down this year from last year. I don't think the economy is doing as well as ppl say it is. The bulk of my purchases this year were the cheaper things. The expensive stuff is still sitting there.

3

 Dec 21, 2015 at 10:55 PM Boochie Says:

Applestien ......not everything here is about Jews .....its called Vos iz neias and that my friend iz neias

4

 Dec 22, 2015 at 07:29 AM waste-a-time Says:

Many of the chevra who frequent this site are involved in some sort of commerce which in one way or another is affected by shipping. If even just one Yid benefits from knowledge of the capacity and/or possibilities of UPS, it might be worthy of posting it on this site. I would guess you're not involved in this type of commerce, but you're most likely affected by it as a consumer.

5

 Dec 22, 2015 at 07:39 AM Online shopper Says:

Reply to #1  
Applestein Says:

Remind me again how is this news for the Jewish world?

Take ur phone into tag to block vous iz neious it's obviously on the black list for u.
at least I know how my majour reducted holiday shopping is getting to me.
I am expecting another package today with UPS

6

 Dec 22, 2015 at 07:54 AM mewhoze Says:

usps actually delivered to me on sunday and rang my bell.
ups just puts the box in front of my door and leaves. unless specifically signature is required

7

 Dec 22, 2015 at 10:28 AM LionofZion Says:

Applestein,
Would you rather be reading about some new instance of Chillul Hashem by our community? The rest of us look to VIN to keep us in touch with what is going on in the world. It might be political race, a tsunami somewhere, or even a sporting event that you don't care about. In this case, it was a story about how modernization and competition has created the possibility to move an incredible amount of goods in an incredible amount of time. Maybe it can inspire us all to be a little bit more incredible.

8

 Dec 22, 2015 at 02:15 PM vbtwo Says:

Reply to #6  
mewhoze Says:

usps actually delivered to me on sunday and rang my bell.
ups just puts the box in front of my door and leaves. unless specifically signature is required

This is their standard practice around this time of the year. Since they have so many more packages to deliver, unless signature is required, they will just drop it off and leave (maybe ring the bell, but not wait until you show up).

9

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