The hobby has made remarkable strides over the last 30 years; almost everything in the hobby is now superior to how it was in the early days of the hobby. Sadly the one thing that really has not improved is shipping. I have spent countless hours in airport cargo facilities waiting for shipments to arrive. I have spent similar wasted hours talking to shipping representatives to to ascertain where my fish or corals are. And saddest of all I have lost innumerable fish and corals due to my packages being delayed, lost or neglected.
I would love to be able to say that despite improvements in technology to track shipments that things have gotten better, but unfortunately that has not been my experience. I know that many of you will not have experienced this first hand, but for those of you unfortunate enough to have lived through this experience, you know what I am talking about.
In an average week, over 10,000 parcels are shipped having some relationship to aquarium hobbyists. These include not only the boxes that come directly to hobbyists, but also all of the freight that goes to the wholesalers and manufacturers as well. This half million pieces of freight, while large, is still only a fraction of the freight being shipped. However, it should be taken into account that much of this freight is shipped at premium rates, owing to the value of this cargo and how it can readily perish if not handled properly and quickly.
Unfortunately the airlines and freight companies apparently view it as more of a hassle to handle rather than having a positive impact to their bottom line. As a result, our freight is typically bumped in favor of mail, cut flowers, human remains and luggage. While I can understand the need to get these other items to their destinations, typically none of these items will be harmed to the same degree as ours will, if they were bumped instead of our boxes.
The typical rule for survival of most of our items is that they will typcially survive for 30 hours of shipping and past 30 hours mortality increases by 10% per hour after 30 hours. This is of course during the good months, when there are no extremes of heat or cold. In those month this rule usually starts at 24 hours, because that is how long most heat or cold packs function. Some shippers are better at this than others, as some shippers pack heavy expecting there to be delays.
Alas, what all of this means for us is prices that are higher than would be the case if shipping was more efficient. This is because the cost of not only freight needs to be added into the cost of fish and corals, but so too do the losses that occur during shipping. As a result, in some instances thees costs can lead to the price of a fish or coral doubling or even tripling as a result of the freight costs and losses. After talking with several of the large wholesalers and countless shop owners, it is clear that more than half of the mortality of fish and coral is due delays or poor handling of our animals by the shipping companies.
Due to my own bad experiences, I have become an expert in dealing with the airlines and freight companies. Last year I had 20 shipments handled by the purple and orange company. Of those 20, 6 shipments were lost or delayed, with most of those delays adding at least 20 hours to when I received my shipment. I also received almost that number of shipments from the brown company, and of those only 1 was delayed, and it was only delayed by a few hours. The airlines were not much better unfortunately. Of eight shipments sent to me directly via the airlines, three were delayed. Fortunately though, after learning to discuss the need for speed with their cargo personnel I managed to get all of my shipments on the next flight.
So what can a hobbyist do to try and reduce this problem? First, learn how to track your packages as soon as they are ready for shipment. This is easy to do and can pay off in saving an entire shipment. In my own case, one of my last shipments through an airline was going to be bumped by an extra day almost as soon as it arrived at the cargo officce. Fortunately, upon seeing that I was able to call the shipper and they were able to retrieve it before it made the first flight and then would have been lost in the system.
Second, get the phone numbers for the cargo offices of the airlines you are shipping through. That is if your package is going from LA to Chicago to you, get the numbers for all 3 offices. This is important as there can be a bottleneck at any of these places. I have learned to be very nice when I have had to call these offices and explain to the cargo personnel that these are live fish and if they are delayed or allowed to sit out on the hot or cold tarmac that the animals will die. These people have all for the most part been very understanding and have in many instances helped to expedite getting my cargo on the next plane. Lastly, know the hours of your freight office as well as the hours of when people are in the building. Again, I have called and by being polite gotten some freight personnel to let me in after hours to retrieve fish and corals that otherwise would have died due to the delay.
I also strongly suggest that you check with the reliability of any freight service or airline you ship with. I try not to use one of the freight companies as their delay rate is way too high. I have found out that when several of my boxes were bumped, they were bumped so that they would have more room for overnight envelopes, for which they make more money by space. In one instance even though I paid for overnight, i.e, delivery via airplane, they bumped my box onto a truck and as a result it took 3 days to arrive rather than the promised overnight.
Initially they tried to blame it on weather, but I also received a smaller box that day from the same locale, so when I told them that they immediately changed their story. However, when I tried to recover the freight charges all they would do is say they were sorry, but now after 5 months I am still waiting for a credit. However, during this debacle I did learn their system.
You start off talking to the main hub, where no one will tell you their name. Then you ask for the supervisor, after the supervisor you ask for the customer advocate, after them you ask for the customer advocate supervisor, when they don’t really help you, you ask to be connected to the corporate office. I now have a person in the corporate office’s direct number who I now call immediately when a shipment is lost. If any of you have this same problem hopefully this gives you some idea what you need to do. The last time when I spoke with corporate they even got me into the facility where the planes land and I was able to pull my corals my corals at 2am, which I believe saved them, rather than waiting for them to be delivered the next morning.
The problems with shipping are often overlooked, and they have more of an impact on the cost of this hobby than many of us realize. I wrote this to try and highlight what a problem this is and also to hopefully show what you can do if your valuable package is delayed. I further suggest that when you contact the freight company to be nice, but to also let them know how important our freight is in the hope that eventually they will treat it as conscientiously as we do our animals once we have them.