The Boeing 767 touched down at Bush Intercontinental Airport at dawn, its red and yellow fuselage shimmering in the early morning light.
The cargo plane taxied to a DHL Express facility, where crews unloaded 30 large freight containers teeming with more than 10,000 packages from around the world. The boxes cascaded down a conveyor belt toward 75 workers, who scanned, sorted, labeled and loaded them onto dozens of delivery trucks headed across Houston to destinations from Beaumont to Bryan.
“We’re probably second to Santa when it comes to delivering packages,” facility manager Joe Green said. “A close second.”
Dec. 18, the week before Christmas, was the busiest day for couriers charged with delivering millions of packages sent by last-minute shoppers turning to the internet for gift-giving salvation. Americans spent a record $80.3 billion between Nov. 1 and Dec. 6, according to Adobe Analytics, a retail data firm tracking online holiday sales. That included $7.9 billion on Cyber Monday, a 17% increase from last year.
Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News
DHL, which specializes in international shipments, anticipates that it will make 156,000 delivery stops every day during December, a 56% increase over a typical month. The German shipping company, which operates distribution hubs at each of Houston’s two major airports, did not disclose how many packages it expects to deliver this season but anticipates it will handle 17% more package deliveries than last year.
Other couriers — including the Postal Service, FedEx Corp. and UPS Inc.— have worked around the clock since Black Friday to deliver millions of packages globally by Christmas morning.
The post office and Atlanta shipper UPS expect to deliver 900 million and 800 million packages, respectively, this holiday season, each up by 50 million from last year. Federal Express, based in Memphis, Tenn., expects to ship more than 400 million packages from Black Friday until Christmas Eve.
Courier companies have planned for peak season all year long. UPS hired 100,000 temporary workers, up about 5.3% from last year; and FedEx hired 55,000 seasonal workers, up 10% from last year. DHL also hired 10% more workers.
Houston is among DHL’s top 10 busiest cities for international shipping. DHL’s Houston hub ships packages to and from 220 countries, mostly in Europe and Asia. The courier can move packages from Houston to most of the world in one or two days.
“E-commerce and shipping networks have really made the world smaller,” Green said.
Amazon facility preparing orders during the holiday rush. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News)
Amazon.com, the nation’s most valuable e-commerce retailer, has become a stronger competitor to traditional couriers such as UPS and FedEx this holiday season. The Seattle e-commerce giant, which in 2016 launched its own airfreight service, Amazon Air, operates 40 Boeing 767 cargo planes and is rolling out 25,000 Amazon-branded delivery vans nationally.
Amazon, which is building a $1.5 billion global hub in Cincinnati, earlier this month said it will build a regional facility at Fort Worth Alliance Airport to support its one-day and two-day package delivery in Texas and across the country.
The Fort Worth facility, set to open next year near a FedEx facility, is expected to save Amazon between $1 billion and $2 billion in shipping costs, according to Morgan Stanley. Amazon is poised to take market share from UPS and FedEx, whose revenues could decline by a combined 10% by 2025.
“Amazon’s new air hub could compete directly with FedEx and UPS,” analyst Ravi Shanker said.
Amazon has not disclosed how many packages it delivers through its Air network, but said its customers ordered more than 180 million items between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, the biggest shopping weekend in the company’s history. Amazon is offering free shipping to all of its customers this holiday season.
FedEx, which has more than 650 cargo planes and 160,000 delivery trucks, has worked to deliver millions of packages to customers around the world in time for Christmas. Inside the company’s distribution center near NRG Stadium one recent morning, 200 FedEx workers unloaded thousands of packages from airfreight containers onto conveyor belts and into 110 delivery trucks and vans headed for customers in the Galleria and downtown Houston.
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News
Robert Watts, manager of FedEx Express’ Houston facility, has worked for FedEx for 31 years. He remembers planning for the holiday package rush decades ago, before Amazon and e-commerce existed. At the time, it seemed crazy busy, he recalled, but the courier’s package volume was peanuts compared with today.
“We become like Santa Claus every year,” Watts said. “And every year, we find a way to get it done.”