Holiday shipments are up this year as delivery outfits including UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service scramble to get packages and cards delivered during their busiest week of the year.
Thursday was the busiest day of 2011 for the brown-suited elves at United Parcel Service Inc., who delivered nearly 26 million items. That's roughly 300 deliveries a second, up 60% from the parcel shipping company's normal daily average.
The company will handle an estimated 120 million shipments during the week before Christmas, up from the 113 million sent this time last year. To make it happen, UPS added more than 400 extra flights each day and hired nearly 24,000 seasonal employees.
Holiday shipments are often considered a barometer of the economy's health because they reflect consumer spending habits.
The Postal Service said this week that it processed approximately 600 million cards and letters Tuesday and had its heaviest package-shipping load of the year the day before. That's about the same total as last year, which was a 40% improvement from 2009.
The Postal Service estimated that between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it will work through 16.5 billion pieces of mail and sell 2.5 billion holiday-themed Forever stamps that are good for first-class delivery despite any future increases in postal fees.
On Dec. 12, FedEx Corp. said it had its most frantic day in company history, processing 17 million packages — 10% more than on the same day last year. Over the season, the delivery service said, it will transport 260 million shipments worldwide, a 12% increase over last year.