- The United States Postal Service (USPS) is shipping mail and parcels to ten European countries via ocean freight "to address the issue of limited air transportation resulting from widespread flight cancellations and restrictions due to COVID-19," according to a postal service advisory dated April 23.
- The first batch of mail shipped to Europe in this way left JFK International Service Center in New York for the Port of Rotterdam April 20 carrying five containers of mail weighing 32,768 kilograms, according to the advisory. The destination countries affected by this change are Austria, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
- Shipping mail and parcels in this manner can delay and add uncertainty to arrival times. "Sea route arrival dates are not exact and may vary depending on weather related events and queuing at port of arrival," the advisory said. USPS estimates an additional seven to twelve days of transit time to cover port unloading, customs clearance, transit to a sorting facility, sorting and final transit, and delivery.
This is not the first time the Postal Service has made such a move due to the COVID-19 outbreak, a USPS spokesperson told Supply Chain Dive. The service shipped mail from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Shanghai by sea in February.
"In a non-COVID 19 world, we use ocean routes to return empty bags and some return to sender mail. But no US outbound mail," the spokesperson said via email.
In February, airfreight capacity fell more than demand for the first time since 2017, as the coronavirus outbreak led to canceled flights all over the world. The loss of belly cargo space due to a dramatic drop-off in passenger flights has brought total capacity down further and caused some airlines to convert passenger cabins to ferry cargo. But still, rates rise.
Airfreight rates between Chicago and European airports on April 20 were nearly triple their January 20 price, according to the TAC Index. The USPS spokesperson did not respond to an inquiry as to whether pricing factored into the decision to switch freight modes for some international USPS destinations.