Great Package Race 2006

Figure 1: UPS routes to our destinations

And they are off…!

We sent packages to:

  • Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso in west Africa (formerly Upper Volta)
  • Split, home of the Palace of Diocletian and the largest city in the Dalmatian region of Croatia
  • Surabaya, capital of East Java, Indonesia
  • Punta Arenas, capital of the Patagonian region of Chile and one of the southernmost cities in the world

The contestants

The start: Friday 14 April

We began by going to the web sites of each carrier to get the essential forms, such as for the commercial invoice required for international shipments. These were easy to find at at the UPS and DHL web sites, harder to find at Fedex. If we had been registered users of any of the services, we could have filled out all the required paperwork on the web; but we are not and so we looked for forms that we could print at our office. The forms were available only in pdf format. They seemed designed for printing and then filling in by hand; to edit them electronically requires Adobe Acrobat, which is proprietary software.

Destination Carrier Cost Delivery Route Comments
Ouagadougou FedEx $202.82 19 April 1709h Atlanta; Memphis; Newark, NJ; Paris; Ouagadougou
UPS $202.47 20 April 0919h Atlanta; Hapeville, GA; Louisville, KY; Philadelphia; Paris;
Abidjan; Ouagadougou
This package was delayed in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. The
tracking message read: “The scheduled flight was cancelled and
caused this delay due to circumstances beyond UPS control”.
Strangely, this package was reported as having been scanned
again at Abidjan on 21 April, a day after
! We are not sure what this means.
DHL $165.02 28 April 1651h Atlanta; Wilmington, OH; New York; Cologne; Brussels; Lagos;
Ouagadougou (details)
Our package sat in Ouagadougou for one week before delivery.
DHL said the address was inadequate.
Punta Arenas DHL $124.93 18 April 1626h Atlanta; Miami; Santiago; Punta Arenas
FedEx $170.57 20 April 1141h, as reported to tracking, but recipient says
it was actually delivered 19 April at 1730h
Atlanta; Memphis; Miami; Santiago; Punta Arenas
UPS $167.67 20 April 1050h but recipient says 1115h Atlanta; Hapeville, GA; Louisville, KY; Miami; Santiago;
Punta Arenas (details)
Tracking message on 18 April: “A processing error has at
destination caused this delay [in Santiago]; the package was
missorted at the hub. It has been rerouted to the correct
destination site.” A message later that day says “The address
is in a remote area and deliveries are not made daily.” Our
recipient noted that the package was carried from Santiago to
Punta Arenas by LANCargo and delivered locally by
Split UPS $224.16 19 April 1000h Atlanta; Hapeville, GA; Louisville, KY; Cologne; Zagreb
WINNER!: ahead of DHL by only 3 minutes!
(The recipient was not home to receive the package but we
consider the race over when the package reaches its destination,
even if the recipient is not there to receive it.) UPS returned
the next day to deliver.
DHL $157.68 19 April 1003h Atlanta; Wilmington, OH; New York; Cologne; Brussels;
Bergamo; Zagreb; … (details)
No one was home at this, the first delivery attempt.
FedEx $222.82 24 April 0905h Atlanta; Memphis; Panama City, Panama; Alajuela,
Costa Rica???
; Memphis, Paris; Frankfurt;
Split (details)
A keying error by courier: “CR” apparently sent our
package to Costa Rica instead of CRoatia
Surabaya UPS $111.94 18 April 1205h Atlanta; Hapeville, GA; Louisville, KY; Anchorage, AK;
Incheon, Korea; Singapore; Jakarta; Surabaya
DHL $76.15 19 April 0955h Atlanta; Wilmington, OH; Singapore; Jakarta; Surabaya
FedEx $116.01 20 April 0913h Atlanta; Indianapolis; Chicago; Anchorage; Subic Bay,
Philippines; Cengkareng, Jakarta; Surabaya

The routes

Figure 1: UPS routes to our destinations

Figure 1: UPS routes to our destinations

After local pickup, each package was driven to a local freight terminal, sorted, and then flown to one of the major sortation facilities the carriers operate in the midwestern US: UPS uses Louisville, KY; FedEx uses Indianapolis, IN or Memphis, TN; DHL uses Wilmington, OH (northeast of Cincinnati).

What we learned

  • Our choice of destinations was not representative of most international shipping and may not reflect service to be expected to more typical destinations.
  • For destinations, like ours, that are outside the larger channels of international commerce, packages are eventually transferred to local carriers who are subcontractred to the multinationals. Then we lost some visibility into the delivery chain. For example, the delivery times reported by DHL and UPS at Punta Arenas were inconsistent with those reported by our recipient.
  • A surprising number of processing errors, especially keying errors, delayed packages: See, for example, UPS in Santiago; FedEx
    in Costa Rica; and the puzzling UPS post-delivery scan in Abidjan. We experienced similar problems in 2004.
  • DHL was significantly less expensive than the others, yet won one race and missed winning another by only 3 minutes. But they let our package sit for a week in Ouagadougou. They claimed the address was inadequate but never explained how. Eventually they delivered the package.


Thanks to Paul Goldsman, Sergio Maturana, and Sriram Subramanian for help in sending off the packages; and thanks to the recipients for documenting their arrival! Also thanks to Bob Foley for catching some errors in the original html coding for this web page and to Anton Kleywegt for correcting some of my lapses in the geography of Africa.

(My colleague George Nemhauser has visited two of these cities, Split and Punta Arenas. Has anyone else visited more than two?)