How Overnight Shipping Works

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Animation by Josh Sherrington (
Sound by Graham Haerther (
Thumbnail by Joe Cieplinski (
FedEx 767, Fedex a300, Allegiant Airlines Md-83, Prime Air video courtesy PDX aviation
DHl a300 video courtesy LEJ.approach/dvldi
UPS 747-8 video courtesy UPS
FedEx footage courtesy FedEx
Music: “Cielo” by Huma-Huma, “Rhodesia” By Twin Musicom, “Ticker” By Silent Partner, “Not for Nothing” By Otis McDonald
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Category: Entertainment
Caption: This video was made possible by squarespace. build your website for 10% off at. squarespace. com/wendover. overnight shipping is an absolute masterpiece. of logistics that happens every single. night. it may not be cheap, but you can get a package. shipped from miami, florida on a monday. night to anchorage, alaska, by 8:30 am on. tuesday. in fact, you can even ship a package, for. example, from edinburgh, scotland on a tuesday. and have the package arrive in anchorage,. alaska by 9am on wednesday. the speed and efficiency of these worldwide. delivery networks is. mind-blowing and it all happens while we sleep. the three major consumer courier companies. are fedex, dhl, and ups and each is as. impressive as the last. fedex has more planes than emirates, etihad,. and qatar airways. combined; dhl delivers to every country in. the world including north korea; and ups flies. to. more than double as many destinations as the. largest passenger airline. each has a global. network that allows for lightning fast shipping. at relatively low prices. behind all this speed are. enormous air networks that connect the entire. world daily. each of these three operates hundreds. of flights nightly, but fedex is the best. example since their operations make them the. largest. cargo airline in the world. they have 650 planes flying to 400 destinations. carrying 6 million. packages every single day and the vast majority. of these flights operate to or from one of. their. hub airports. fedex’s hub airports are spread out all. across the world and serve as sorting points. where. packages are transferred from one plane to. another. they has hubs in singapore, guangzhou,. shanghai, seoul, osaka, anchorage, oakland,. dallas, indianapolis, greensboro, miami, newark,. toronto, paris, cologne, milan, and dubai,. but the most important hub of all is the one. in. memphis, tennessee because that’s their. superhub. memphis is not a huge city—only about 650, people live there—but the reason fedex. centers their worldwide operations in this. city is because of it’s location. memphis is not actually. in the geographic center of the us as might. make sense, but it is central. you see, only about miles away in wright county, missouri is the. mean population center of the us. this is the. average location of every resident in the. us meaning that the fedex superhub in memphis. is. the best location to reach the most people. in the shortest amount of time. for similar reasons,. ups has their equivalent global hub, worldport,. nearby in louisville, kentucky. the scale of. fedex and ups’ operations in these relatively. small cities is staggering. this is the size of the. commercial terminal at memphis airport while. this is the size of fedex’s superhub. the. difference at louisville airport is even more. pronounced where this is the commercial terminal. and this is ups’ worldport. you can’t even fly to the west coast non-stop. on a commercial airline. from louisville and yet ups flies from this. small city to five different continents. fedex’s. operations in memphis, meanwhile, make this. airport the second busiest cargo airport in. the. world above those of enormous cities like. tokyo, paris, dubai, shanghai, and falling. short only. to hong kong. how the fedex superhub really works is that. every night, about 150 planes fly in from. all. around the world between the hours of 10pm. and 1am. immediately upon arrival, the planes are. unloaded and their packages are put into the. hub’s automated sorting system. within only minutes, each package arrives at a staging. area for its next flight where it’s loaded. into. containers. planes therefore can start taking off again. at 2am and continue to until 4am which. means that everywhere in the us can have a. fedex plane arriving by 6am, but there are. some. destinations that don’t ship enough packages. to need a non-stop flight to memphis. to get to. small towns fast, fedex runs flights in small. propeller aircraft from the destinations of. their. larger jets. presque isle, maine, for example, is far too. small of a town at about 10,000 residents. to fill a full-size plane so, every morning,. once the larger planes from memphis arrive. in. manchester, new hampshire and portland, maine,. packages bound for presque isle are sorted. into smaller prop planes that continue north. with this system, even small towns like presque. isle. get their packages by 9am as every spoke in. the system essentially functions as a mini-hub. packages are transferred from planes, to smaller. planes, to trucks to reach their destination. as fast. as possible. now, it’s important to note that not every. fedex package runs through memphis. that. would be incredibly inefficient if a customer. wanted to, for example, ship a package from. phoenix, arizona to seattle, washington. while only 1,100 miles separate seattle from. phoenix,. a routing through memphis would total over. 3,000 miles and six hours in flight. the package. would still make it overnight, but fedex would. be wasting fuel carrying that package an extra. 1,900 miles, so that’s why they have secondary. hubs. in this case, fedex’s oakland hub has. flights to both phoenix and seattle so the. package would take a relatively efficient. 1,300 mile. routing. memphis essentially serves as the backup hub. in case there’s not a more efficient. routing. the secondary hubs, such as oakland, in general. have flights to destinations that are. already served by flights to memphis, but. the destinations from oakland are high demand. destinations that will ship enough packages. solely to the west coast to fill entire planes. to. oakland. some destinations, such as albuquerque, new. mexico, ship enough packages to fill. entire planes to memphis, but not enough to. fill flights to oakland with west coast bound. packages so a package shipped from here to. the west coast would likely take a rather. inefficient. routing backtracking to memphis. but fedex’s most ingenious hub is here in. anchorage, alaska. anchorage, with fewer. than 300,000 residents, is home to the forth. busiest cargo airport in the world. this is, once. again, thanks to geography. if you draw a straight line from fedex’s. memphis hub to the one in. osaka, taking into account earth’s curvature,. it goes directly over anchorage, alaska. this. airport is just the perfect stop-over point. for flights from the us to asia. now, dozens of cargo. airlines operate in anchorage but most of. them just use the airport as a refueling and. crew swap. spot. modern airplanes can fly non-stop from the. contiguous united states to asia, but doing. so. requires taking more fuel which requires taking. less cargo. it’s just cheaper to stop in anchorage,. but fedex and ups use the stop for something. else—sorting. if fedex wanted to maintain. current shipping times without the anchorage. hub, they would likely have to run non-stop. flights. from each of their asian hubs to each of their. american hubs, but they just don’t have. the. demand to fill this many planes. instead, they run flights from their asian. hubs to anchorage. then flights from anchorage many of their. american hubs. while stopped in anchorage,. packages from asia are processed through customs. and sorted to be put on the plane bound. closest to their destination. this helps cuts down on shipping time and. cost. shipping is an incredibly price-sensitive. business. these courier companies rely on. enormous contracts with retailers and, when. some of these retailers are shipping millions. of. packages per day, every cent matters. in a lot of ways, however, the express shipping. model is. inherently expensive largely because of how. couriers use their most expensive assets—planes. so much is centered around those few sorting. hours at the big hubs so fedex’s planes. all have to. wait around to arrive at the exact right moment. some fedex hubs, such as memphis, do sort. packages during the day, but the overwhelming. majority of their business happens overnight. fedex’s flight from memphis to oklahoma. city, for example, leaves at 4am and arrives. at. 5:20am, but then the plane waits around until. 10:10pm to fly back to memphis. that’s over hours sitting in oklahoma city and, on that. route, the plane is only flying for about. two hours per. day. meanwhile, commercial airlines regularly fly. their planes for more than 12 hours per day. meaning they have six times higher aircraft. utilization. fedex would never be profitable if they. bought all new multi-hundred million dollar. aircraft to use for mere hours per day, so. they don’t. overwhelmingly, fedex and other cargo airlines. use old aircraft at the end of their lives. you’ll. almost never see airbus a300’s flying for. passenger airlines anymore, yet fedex, ups,. and dhl. collectively own hundreds of them because. they’re cheap. they didn’t spend much purchasing. these aircraft, so they don’t have to worry. about using them enough to offset their cost. ups does. have some brand new 747-800 aircraft, which. are highly efficient, but they specifically. schedule. these planes on their longest routes so that. they can recuperate their high purchase price. through. lower fuel costs. with older aircraft, fuel costs might be higher. since the planes are less efficient,. but overall it’s worth it since it allows. fedex to profitably leave their planes sitting. for all but a. few hours each day. some passenger airlines, such as allegiant. airlines in the us, uses the same. strategy purchasing cheaper planes to allow. them to fly fewer hours per day profitably. and its. now a tested and proven business strategy. express shipping is one of those businesses. that requires enormous networks to make. work which is why you don’t see small shipping. companies. it’s almost impossible to get started. in this business unless, of course, you can. make your own demand. amazon, which ships more. than a million packages per day, is getting. into the delivery business. they’ve established a fleet. of 32 aircraft and are building out their. logistics network. when shipping so many packages,. amazon is operating at a scale where they. can profit by taking the shipping companies. out of the. equation. fedex, ups, and dhl, meanwhile, are continuously. focusing on further increasing the. efficiency of their networks since in this. business more than any, time is money. as you may have noticed, wendover productions. has a new logo and with that i’ve. redesigned the website with squarespace. to be honest, i hadn’t used the website. builder in a. while but this process reminded me of why. i’m such a fan of squarespace. it was super simple to. completely overhaul the site and, in my opinion,. it looks great. i didn’t have any issues, but if. you ever do they have award winning 24/7 customer. support that i have used in the past and can. vouch for. if you run a business, a youtube channel,. a podcast, or anything else, you want to have. a professional web presence like i do with. my site since that’s how people find you,. and you can. get started building your website with squarespace. for 10% off at squarespace. com/wendover. squarespace is a great supporter of the show. so make sure to show them your appreciation. by at. least checking them out at squarespace. com/wendover. and just one more thing, if you’re like. me and the first reaction you had to seeing. this new logo is wanting a t-shirt of it,. you’re in luck. because they’re now available for pre-order. at dftba. the link is in the description. .

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