Great Package Race 2007

Figure 1: Routes to Tikrit

And they are off…!

We sent packages to:

  • Apia, the only city on Upulu, one of the islands comprising the country of Samoa, in the western Pacific Ocean. Upulu has no street addresses.
  • Florianopolis, an island off the coast of southern Brazil just above Uruguay; considered by the carriers to be a “remote area”
  • Harare, capital of Zimbabwe, which is currently experiencing hyperinflation and political unrest
  • Tikrit, birthplace of Saddam Hussein and a center of Sunni insurgency in Iraq
  • Yangon, untilrecently, capital of Myanmar, one of the most isolated countries in the world. The city was formerly known as Rangoon, Burma.

The contestants

The start: Friday 13 April

Before starting the race we phoned each carrier and asked them whether they foresaw any difficulties in shipping to our destinations. FedEx and UPS both claimed that they could not ship to Myanmar but could not explain why. DHL said that it could ship in to but not out of Myanmar.

The phone representative at UPS said that there was no country named Samoa. (In 1997 Western Samoa changed its name to Samoa, but it still exists as Western Samoa in the UPS database, as you can see by looking at under “Shipping: Calculate Time and Cost”.)

We ignored the warnings and shipped all packages because in the past the phone representatives have been a rich source of misinformation. We phoned each company at 0830 to ask them to pick up our packages after noon. FedEx picked up at 1230, DHL at 1346, and UPS at 1525.

UPS and FedEx initially accepted but later returned our packages addressed to Myanmar. FedEx provided no reason; UPS provided a reason but it was unintelligible (“Invoice and receiver IRS # required”).  UPS carried our package intended for Tikrit as far as Dubai and then returned it because “this service is
not available”.

The race as of 27 April

Destination Carrier Cost Delivery Route Comments
Apia 1. DHL $94.45 18 Apr 1315 (details) WINNER!
2. FedEx $169.10 18 Apr 1420 (details)
3.  UPS $188.93 Last seen in Auckland 11 days ago (details)
Florianopolis 1. FedEx $119.38 17 Apr 1330 (details) WINNER!
2. DHL $76.96 17 Apr 1808 (details)
3. UPS $135.58 Delayed 4 days in Campinas, Brazil: “the address is in
a remote area and deliveries are not made daily”
(details) Delivery attempt 23 Apr 1903, after business hours.
Successful delivery 24 Apr 1805.
Harare 1. UPS $336.60 17 Apr 1635 (details) WINNER!
2. DHL $126.18 20 Apr 0855 (details) Missed delivery 17 Apr so had to wait until after
national day holiday
3. FedEx $244.48 Undelivered as of 30 Apr (details) In Harare for past 10 days: “held, unable to collect
Tikrit 1. DHL $125.26 17 Apr 1400 (details) WINNER!
2. FedEx $100.30 17 Apr 1645 (details)
X. UPS $67.34 DNF (details) Package turned back at Dubai because “service not
available”. After sitting in Louisville for 7 days
the package was returned. We were billed nonetheless.
Yangon 1. DHL $94.45 18 Apr 1159 8 cities in 5 countries, 5 days
X. FedEx DNF Returned package with no explanation
X. UPS DNF Returned package because “Invoice and receiver IRS #

“DNF” = “Did Not Finish”.

The routes


Figure 1: Routes to Tikrit

Figure 1: Routes to Tikrit

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).


Some packages are still en route but it is already clear that DHL has won. They were first to three destinations and came in a close second in the remaining two.

As of 20 April DHL had delivered all five of its packages. As of 30 April FedEx had delivered three packages, one was being held for some kind of payment, and one had been declined. UPS had delivered two packages, had another still en route, was returning another (“service not available”), and had declined to take one.

Some have observed, fairly, that our chosen destinations are not representative of actual business flows. Therefore we supplemented this year’s race with another, from Atlanta to Singapore. Packages were sent 03 July and all were delivered 06 July. The results reflect those of the larger race: DHL was first, arriving at 1038; FedEx was next, at 1114; and UPS was third, delivering at 1551.


  • DHL, which nearly won last year, was the clear winner this year. In addition, our office staff said their phone staff was particularly helpful.
  • The phone representative at UPS claimed that Samoa was not a country and that UPS would not deliver to APO addresses.
  • The DHL web site would not allow us to sign up for automatic notifications for two of the shipments. No reason was given, just a message to try again later. This problem persisted through the entire race.
  • Prices of the shipments varied considerably; for example, one carrier charged $94.45 to Apia while another charged $169.10. Prices to Harare ranged from $126 to $336.
  • Many of the tracking reports were 2–10 days behind clock time and so not of much use except as historical documents. This was true especially as the packages got closer to their destination. Possibly this is due to limitations of subcontractors.
  • We have no idea why our FedEx package was held in Harare, as we prepaid everything. When our correspondent tried to pick up the package, it could not be found. He was successful on a second visit, about which he writes: “I finally collected the parcel on 3rd May 2007 at 10 am. I told the staff at FedEx [that all charges were to be directed to the sender] and they said that their computer system was down. They however decided to give me the parcel and said that they would come back to me if there was a need to pay anything. They had been charged US$1 for customs and the rest were their charges.”
  • We have no idea why our UPS package to Tikrit was diverted at Dubai and returned: Our correspondents in Iraq claim to receive packages from all three carriers. UPS charged us $67 for the non-delivery.
  • DHL was able to tell us the final costs upon delivery. FedEx could tell us some costs but not all. UPS said that we would have to wait for the credit card bill.

DHL, first to Tikrit, celebrates in front of a Blackhawk helicopter

Delivery to Tikrit, IraqDHL, first to Tikrit, celebrates in front of a Blackhawk helicopter


Thanks to Michelle Owen, Pete Viehweg, and Sriram Subramanian for help in sending off the packages; and thanks to the recipients for documenting their arrival!