Often, travelers are asked to pledge that they won't drink any alcohol on their flight. (Courier companies don't like the idea of staggering drunks carrying their logo around.) Shorts and suggestive T-shirts are often forbidden, and sometimes so are jeans or sneakers. Backpacks are often discouraged because they are thought to attract extra attention from customs inspectors. When an inspection lasts longer, precious time is lost.
"Our livelihood depends on maintaining a good working relationship with customs," says Carpenter. Hence, over the last decade, she and her IBC-Pacific colleagues have compiled a list of about 25 former couriers with whom, for one reason or another, they won't do business again.
Anyone serious about flying as a courier should do further homework. Kelly Monaghan lays out the details of the air courier trade--and lists courier companies and their offerings--in his 218-page book, "The Insiders Guide to Courier Travel: How to Travel World-wide for Next to Nothing" ($14.95; published by The Intrepid Traveler, P.O. Box 438, New York 10034). Even though the book has been recently updated, readers should note that courier company destinations, schedules and prices change frequently. Beyond the overview he provides of the business, the most valuable information in Monaghan's book is probably the list of addresses and phone numbers, which allows would-be travelers to call companies for up-to-date information.
Another source is "Airfare Secrets Uncovered: The Insiders Guide to Huge Discounts on Air Travel," by Sharon Tyler and Matthew Wunder ($14.95, published by the Universal Information Corp., distributed by ProStar Publications, P.O. Box 67571, Los Angeles 90067; 310-287-2833). Tyler and Wunder's book, spiral-bound and oversized, is broader in scope, spends 37 of its 150 pages on courier travel, and elsewhere discusses airline ticket consolidators, frequent flier programs and other discount possibilities.
A third source is the International Assn. of Air Travel Couriers (P.O. Box 1349, Lake Worth, Fla. 33460; 407-582-8320). For a $35 annual fee, the association sends members "The Shoestring Traveler," a six-times-a-year newsletter that includes updates on courier offerings and other discount travel opportunities.
What follows is an unscientific sampling of West Coast sources for courier tickets. Among the lowest round-trip fares from Los Angeles available when I called around last week: to Sydney, $450; to Hong Kong, $450; to Tokyo, $299; to Mexico City, $175; from San Francisco: to London, $450; to Bangkok, $475. Some of these companies also handle departures from Miami and New York. Most companies are open during weekday business hours and change their prices often, so consider the fare figures above only a general guide.
* SOS International Courier (8715 La Tijera Blvd., Los Angeles 90045; 310-649-6640).
* Way To Go Travel (6679 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90028; 213- 466-1126 or 619-224-2277 or 415- 864-1995). A booking agency that arranges flights with three courier companies, using United, Singapore and LACSA airlines. * POLO Express (811 Grandview Drive, South San Francisco 94080; 310-410-6822 or 415-742-9613). Works with United Airlines, allows no upgrades or frequent flier miles. * IBC-Pacific (1595 E. El Segundo Blvd., El Segundo 90245; 310- 607-0125. Closed on weekends and Mondays). Uses Northwest, Singapore and Continental airlines. * Midnite Express (925 W. Hyde Park Blvd., Inglewood 90302; 310- 672-1100. Call between noon and 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays). Citing troubles with late-arriving passengers from other areas, the company says it will only use Los Angeles County residents as its couriers.