5 Reasons Packages Get Destroyed (Learned Working at UPS)
The holidays are here! It's that special time of year when we spend hundreds of dollars on plastic love substitutes for our family and friends. But some of those bastards have the temerity to live farther away than shouting distance. Unless you cut them out of your life, you're going to need the help of a parcel delivery service to make it through the season.
Of course, "parcel delivery service" is a synonym for "hundreds of uncomfortable sleep-deprived people shoving too many boxes into not enough truck." My name is Sara Ohlms, and I was a Yuletide package-loading zombie for UPS. Now I'm here to tell you how to make sure that Xbox or envelope full of cash you're shipping arrives in one piece. Hint: It's harder than you think.
If You Don't Follow Packing Instructions to the Letter, They Won't Pay for Damage
The collectible kitten plates you shipped to Grandma wound up bashed to shards during shipping. You took all the precautions -- you stuffed the box full of bubble wrap and taped the ever loving hell out of it. But that didn't help when it was sitting on the floor while the tram that drives heavy shit around dropped a 150-pound piece of machinery on it. So, you submit your claim for damages, only to have it denied because the tape you used wasn't wide enough.
Like a fool, Justin failed to check his tape's width.
Yeah, if you don't package your crap according to their rules, they can deny your damage claim. This is true for both UPS and FedEx. For instance, what kind of box did you use? It matters -- but don't worry, their website features this helpful chart:
Don't lie. This is the most you've ever thought about boxes.
Honestly, if you can't perform a simple Minimum Bursting Test to see if your box exceeds the 14.1 kilograms per square centimeter limit, you clearly shouldn't be reimbursed for the antiques we obliterated. And did you even DO a Minimum Edge Crush Test? When's the last time you had your Edge Crush Tester calibrated?
Seriously, though -- use a new box, and use wide packing tape on it. Oh, and I'll give you an extra hint they don't mention: Waterproof what's inside.
Teshub, the storm god, is package delivery's mortal foe.
The trailers that take your stuff across the country are gigantic metal or wooden boxes that sit outside in the elements for years. Sometimes they get holes in them. Then, when it rains, they leak. Nothing made me feel guiltier than loading stuff under a leak, water trickling down over the cargo you clearly expected would stay dry during its trip. We can ask for a replacement trailer, but that backs up the whole process -- in the 20 minutes it takes to get a non-leaky one up to the door, the packages are backed up, stacked up, and basically murdering each other as the belt throws more and more at the heap.
If I've made you paranoid that you can't ship something expensive without spending two hours vacuum sealing it in layers of Kevlar, let me offer a quick tip: Buy a cheap plastic cooler. They're like 10 bucks. Put the expensive item in the cooler, put both inside a box. If you don't understand why, take a cooler out back and pound on it with a baseball bat until it breaks. You have a better chance of the bat bouncing back and breaking your nose than you do of breaking through that cooler.
This will protect your gifts from anything short of skeet shooting.
Please don't underestimate how much this thing is going to get abused -- these packages sit on a slide while hundreds of other packages push from behind. If an especially heavy package comes sliding down on top of yours, it will burst that box and flatten it in a spray of packing peanuts. If not, then I'm going to use your box to play a game of Tetris in the back of a semi (and I won't lie and say I never stood on a package to reach the top of the trailer).
Look, I'm just the messenger. This is a process built with speed in mind -- everything else is sacrificed in the name of cramming the packages into the truck as fast as possible. That's going to be a recurring theme today.
Not pictured: Any fucks given about your new iPhone.
Don't Write "Fragile" on the Box
Packages are like children. To the sender, every one of them is a unique snowflake that must be protected at all costs. And, like children, your package is nothing but a burden to the rest of humanity. But you know what you'll do: Just write "fragile" on the side (regardless of what's in the box) so all of those strangers handling your package will take extra care!
"I treated this like my own damn child."
Ha, no. Each loader is loading at least 1,000 packages a day in a four-hour shift. Four hours in a dark semi trailer that's either too hot or too cold. No one is going to treat your box like a princess because you had a Sharpie and five extra seconds. I learned this my very first day.
My supervisor took me to one of the trailers to show me how to load. He explained how you load left to right, pack them in tight, and go all the way up to the ceiling of the trailer. He took a rather light package that, sure enough, said "FRAGILE" on it and tossed it up to the top of the wall to finish off the stack. He missed. The box fell to the floor of the trailer. He picked it up and tossed it back up there. "That said 'fragile' on it," said I, scandalized. He looked at me like I was crazy and said "They all say 'fragile.'"
At least one of them has to be lying.
So you figure you might as well mark that shit anyway -- it can't hurt, right? Well, Popular Mechanics shipped sensors in both marked and unmarked packages, and the "fragile" boxes wound up taking more punishment. Why? Well, sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but some people in this world are just terrible. And those people will actually treat your package worse if you write "fragile" on it. Maybe they felt that their ability to do their job was being challenged. "So you think I can't load a package without smashing it? I'll show you!" It's a positive feedback loop of smashed shit.
If you have to ship something that MUST get to its destination in one piece and you think it's better to entrust it to the care of total strangers rather than, say, drive it there, you have an option. You can pay more to have your package deemed a "high value" package. These packages are escorted the entire way by special employees. They put these packages in waterproof bags and load them in the trailers, and anybody that touches them has to sign for them. They don't go on any belts. They are hand carried the whole way. The UPS website doesn't say how much this princessification of your package will cost, but it's probably more than your box of heirloom Penthouse magazines is worth.
But if you're willing to pay, men will die to bring those magazines safely home.
So what can be done if you want your regular shipment handled with care? My suggestion is ...
Camouflage It as a Heartwarming Gift
I'm just speaking for myself here, but as I said, I'm in my trailer for up to four hours at a time, surrounded by a rainbow of brown and loud-ass machinery making it irrelevant that I can't listen to music on shift. My default is to curse every package that comes down that slide. Anything that sticks out is going to brighten my day. So if you want your package handled a little more tenderly, give it to your small child (or a friend's child -- anyone's child will do) and let them write on it in crayon.
"Six more heartfelt notes, then you can eat."
See, I'm not about to smash a package that belongs to some kid. I see all the crayon scribbles and poorly spelled adulation for mom, or grandpa, or whoever the hell, and all I can picture is a toddler sending his beloved teddy bear to grandma on the raisin ranch because she only has days to live. And I'll be goddamned if I'll let anything happen to that teddy! Maybe you aren't allowed within a certain distance of small children. That's fine; just make the package look like a gift. Some stickers, "Happy Birthday" written on it, whatever. As long as it's enough to create a heartwarming story to make us care a little more.
Maybe you aren't in the mood to charm somebody. Maybe you don't have time to fuck around. Maybe you have a cold, black heart. In that case, just write something horrible on the package, like "urine samples" (or, as this Reddit poster suggested, "ANIMAL SEMEN"). You know, something no package handler would want spilled on them if the thing got ruptured.
This package has a bright future.
NOTE: If you take this to a wacky extreme and mark your package "high explosive" or something like that, this will just get your package destroyed by a bomb squad.
Don't Send Envelopes
Up until now, it's all been about the hurried and sometimes indifferent human beings who fling your packages into the trucks. But much of the A to B movement of your precious shipment isn't done by hand; it spends a lot of that time shooting through a machine. Check out this video of a top-of-the-line sorting system:
$500 worth of Grandma-bucks was just shredded.
Granted, that didn't look too bad, but the important things to remember here are 1) that's a video from the manufacturer of the machine making it look as gentle as possible and 2) that video shows a machine that is designed for envelopes. The system at UPS absolutely is not -- it's built with packages in mind.
The boxes ride belts, and metal arms go across at the right spot, directing them into the trailer. Every time one belt meets another, there is a chance an envelope can get stuck between the belts. When that happens, it's like tripping at the head of a stampede. There's nothing we can do for your envelope but say a quiet prayer and slosh a bit of our 40-ounce onto the warehouse floor.
Steel Reserve is standard issue.
If you need to send a letter and email just won't do, put it in a box or use the Postal Service. Envelopes are their specialty, and the way things are over there right now, it'll probably get a truck all to itself.
Don't Reuse Boxes
So you've decided to reuse an old box for shipping. Look at you, all saving the environment and shit. I hope that makes you feel like a big man when the box of dildos you were mailing to your Canadian girlfriend wind up at your mom's for Christmas.
"I need you to leave me alone with the gifts for seven minutes, and I need you to not ask why."
The problem is the old labels, and the fact that many, many of you forget to remove them. No, we have no way of knowing which is which -- when the packages tumble down to the sorters and loaders, if they see a label on whatever side of the box happens to be up, that's where the box is going.
If I do happen to notice that the box has two labels, I have to guess which one is the right one. I have maybe 30 seconds to make this decision. I usually go with the cleaner label, as I figure it's been through the system fewer times, making it newer. This is an easy way to solve the problem while giving zero fucks. But even then, there's no guarantee that your box will end up anywhere at all. If I'm in Missouri and I only see the label that says Arizona, that's where it's going. But say the guy in Arizona only sees the label that says it's going to Missouri. Theoretically, your package will just go back and forth forever until the recycled cardboard finally gives up and spills your Beanie Babies all over the dirty, dirty trailer. Tags will get ripped off.
The ones that get through will spend their lives with survivor's guilt.
And it's even worse with the Postal Service, by the way. Did you know the Postal Service considers reusing their old Priority Mail boxes a federal goddamn crime? Much like manufacturing sawed-off shotguns or bathtub gin, stealing a used Priority Mail box from the trash is a short way to Uncle Sam's shit list. "Misuse of postal property" can land you up to three years in jail, but we're assuming the feds don't exactly have a task force dedicated to this.
If you don't like the environmental impact of buying a brand new box every time, well, the world is full of boxes -- just steal some from Walmart at 3 a.m. when they're stocking the shelves. None of the workers will care if you take them. In fact, at three in the morning, I doubt they'd care if you walked right out with a cash register under your arm. And seriously, get a cooler while you're at it.
Maybe some bull semen, too.
Robert Evans is Cracked's head of Dick Joke Journalism and writes many of the captions you enjoy each day. You can contact him here.
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