This package saved my life … The most common reasons for delays in the courier delivery

Do you remember the film “Cast Away”? In its finale, the sole FedEx plane crash survivor, Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) writes a memorable phrase: “This package saved my life”. He places the thank-you card on the faded FedEx logo box and delivers the parcel four years after its shipment. During this time, he extracted his own tooth without anaesthesia, he learned to light a fire without matches, he almost went crazy and almost died of hunger and thirst. Such things happen only in the movies. In the real world, shipments are usually delayed for completely trivial reasons – just a mistake in the delivery address.

“Cast Away” got the label of a 2.5-hour long FedEx advertisement after its premiere – Hanks played an employee of the company, and its founder, Fred Smith, plays himself in the film. An interesting fact is that – according to director Robert Zemeckis who has made it clear in several interviews – FedEx did not pay even one dollar for this gigantic ad. Regardless of what the truth was, the film shows how courier companies are struggling to minimise delivery delays. It also illustrates that the most perfect system cannot cope with two factors: natural disasters and sender errors.

Magic of Christmas

It is not the kind of magic you normally associate with Christmas. It means rather that Christmas time may spell some shipping problems. Being unlucky in forwarding can bring about many troubles:

  • breakdowns – of cars and delivery aircraft, of machines in automatic sorting lines and of other equipment used to ensure efficient distribution and shipments,
  • natural disasters – such as floods, storms, hurricanes and all other natural events that slow down or even stop road and air traffic,
  • accidents and catastrophes – such as all incidents on roads, in airports or ports that lead to downtimes,
  • political events – political destabilisation may cause border closures, block transport routes or stop road, rail, water, or air traffic (or all together),
  • epidemics – epidemiological threats cause the creation of temporary quarantine zones, where it is forbidden to import or export.

The above circumstances happen relatively rarely, and large courier companies have developed risk mitigation procedures to minimise the impact of such unpredictable events. You would be extremely unlucky if any of these events happens during your parcel shipment, and as a result your parcel is delayed for days or has gone missing. In such situations, you cannot count on any compensation unless you prove the courier’s negligence or deliberate action in relation to your detriment. Your only protection against losses is insurance, either if you purchased it or it was applied to your shipment by default (“You pay peanuts….., and you suddenly gain a lot. Insurance of courier parcels”).

Nonetheless, every year you can count with almost 100% certainty on the huge risk called Christmas. The last pre-Christmas weeks are great business awaited by sellers and couriers. At the same time, delays in deliveries become almost routine. During this time, you may experience lost parcels, problems with delivery (couriers cannot meet busy recipients) and other problems delaying delivery.

Although this is obvious, you should always remember: most courier companies celebrate holidays, thus couriers switch off their phones on Christmas Eve to avoid explaining why a parcel ordered just before Christmas will not reach its recipient.

Packing errors cost

A custom package (of non-standard size or weight) is not acceptable for automatic sorting, which may result in a slower and more expensive delivery. Of course, there are still goods that you cannot fit in a sortable shipment (“How much does a ton of styrofoam weigh? We cut the courier services costs”), but in many cases exceeding limits results from the use of oversized, unmatched boxes or improper fillers. Sometimes you just don’t give the possibility of splitting your large package into two sortable ones a try.

Most packing errors, such as improper placement of goods in parcels, on pallets or in containers as well as excessive weight or dimensions could be avoided “just like that” if you used packaging planning algorithms (“Tetris for professionals, or the benefits of packing with an algorithm”). Their use can also significantly reduce the time spent on packaging and preparation of parcels for the courier.

Another category of packaging errors is labelled “unsuitable”. This contains the use of unsuitable (not durable) boxes, of unsuitable fillers (which do not secure the product against mechanical damage “Don’t tuck newspapers into the box! We choose parcel fillers for pros”) and of unsuitable package sealing with packaging tape. All these errors may cause the opening or destruction of the package, or even of its contents. A damaged parcel, even if it reaches its recipient, can result in refusal to accept or a complaint. As a consequence, the defective goods will reach the recipient with a significant delay.

The courier may also refuse to accept a wrongly packaged shipment – then the delivery will be delayed by the time needed for repacking.

Delivery to the middle of nowhere

The most frequent reasons for delays in delivery of parcels are consignment notes with errors (“Shipping label. All that really matters about your package”), especially wrong delivery addresses.

Another classic mistake is a non-durable label or lack of covering it with foil, which protects it against moisture, blurring and mechanical damage. A frequent mistake is also incorrect placement of the label on the package – for example too close to its edge. You should always remember that it is the sender’s responsibility to place the label on the shipment in the correct way.

The delay can also be a consequence of careless filling in of the shipping label form, resulting in errors (e.g. a wrong ZIP/post code) and missing information (e.g. missing flat number). Perhaps such a shipment will finally reach its rightful recipient, but the time of delivery will not be a short one.

If you are to blame for any of the above mentioned errors, you will not be able to claim any compensation from the courier company in the case of late delivery or non-delivery of the parcel.

Prohibited content

An obvious reason for not delivering a courier package on time (or actually not delivering at all) is its prohibited content. As a rule, couriers do not check the actual content of packages – they rely on the customer’s declaration in the consignment note. However, the courier may open the package if there is a reasonable suspicion of prohibited goods inside.

Detailed lists of things that are not allowed to be shipped in a courier package can be found on the website of any forwarding company. If the courier finds such contraband, you may face two kinds of the consequences:

  • penalties resulting from the regulations of the courier company,
  • penalties arising from applicable laws and regulations of the country in which the shipment takes place.

The first category means penalties and additional fees. The second may involve not only financial losses resulting from requisitioning of the goods but also penalties imposed for breaking the law. You may also face the possibility of being arrested and imprisoned if you try to smuggle drugs, cigarettes or alcohol, weapons, explosives and other products that are prohibited to be possessed or shipped in most countries around the world.