Great Package Race 2008

Students prepared 4 identical boxes to be sent to each destination.

And they are off…!

The theme this time is “Hard-To-Reach Places”. On 01 April we sent packages to:

  • Pitcairn Island, where the mutineers from HMS Bounty fled in 1789
  • Khartoum, Sudan, where the White Nile, flowing north from Uganda, meets the Blue Nile, flowing west from Ethiopia
  • Almaty, Kazakhstan, ancestral home of the apple
  • Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock) Australia, which lies 335 km (208 mi) from the nearest large town, Alice Springs
  • Gaza City, in the Gaza Strip and one of the oldest cities in the world

Students prepared 4 identical boxes to be sent to each destination.

Students prepared 4 identical boxes to be sent to each destination.

The start: Tuesday 01 April

Over several weeks preceding the start, we phoned each carrier several times and asked them whether they foresaw any difficulties in shipping to our destinations. We frequently got different answers, depending on with whom we spoke.

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 in the morning and asked them to pick up our packages after 2PM. DHL picked up at 1430, FedEx at 1440, and UPS at 1640. We had to take our packages to the USPS.

The race as of 18 April

Some details, such as cost, will not be known for sure until we receive invoices. We will post them as soon as possible.

Carrier Cost Delivery Tracking # Comments
Uluru, Australia
FedEx $152.52 08 April  862815443318 FIRST! From FedEx hub: Honolulu;
Alexandria, AU, where it disappeared from the tracking
UPS Still unknown 08 April  H5209262196 From UPS hub: Honolulu; Sydney, where it disappeared from
the tracking system.
DHL $141.53 09 April  8066254033 From DHL hub: Singapore; Darwin by
07 April. “Delivery arranged; no details
USPS $29.50 10 April No tracking Only slightly later than premium services
Almaty, Kazakhstan
UPS Still unknown 04 April 1102  H5209262187 FIRST!
FedEx $235.06 04 April 1212  862815443329 A close 2nd
DHL $233.32 07 April 1720  8066254044 From DHL hub: New York; Leipzig; Amsterdam;
Almaty. Package arrived in Almaty on 04 April 0640 but was
delayed for 12 hours and apparently sat over the weekend.
USPS $26.50 No tracking
Pitcairn Island
USPS Appx $40 11 Dec No tracking FIRST!. See note below
UPS Package returned 03 April  H5209262150 No service, contrary to what we had been told by phone
DHL Package returned 03 April  8066308261 No service, contrary to what we had been told by phone
FedEx Package returned  862815443340 No service, contrary to what we had been told by phone
Khartoum, Sudan
USPS $30.00 Sometime before 24 April No tracking FIRST!
UPS Package returned 03 April  H5209262178 “Embargoed country”
DHL $233.14 Package returned 07 April  8066254055 “Unacceptable commodity: Only
documents”; “No WPX allowed.” (WPX??)
FedEx Package returned  862815443330 “Embargoed country”
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories
UPS Package returned 03 April  H5209262169 “Do not deliver to Gaza Strip; only docs per
world com”
FedEx Contacted customer on 13 April  862815443351 In Israel by 07 April. On 13 April we received a
letter from FedEx asking us to phone, when they explained that
Israeli customs would not allow the package to be delivered.
They asked whether we wanted the package returned.
DHL $199.52 Package returned 15 April  8066308246 In Israel 03 April; returned with no explanation

The routes

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 mid-western US: UPS uses Louisville, KY; FedEx uses Indianapolis, IN or Memphis, TN; DHL uses Wilmington, OH (northeast of Cincinnati).

We will post maps of the full routes once the packages have been delivered.

FedEx delivered to Almaty within 3 days

FedEx delivered to Almaty within 3 days


  • We phoned each carrier three times in advance of sending the packages. DHL customer service was prompt and consistent. They were even able to answer questions in Spanish, the native language of one of the students. Some of the other carriers gave us different information each time we called.
  • None of the carriers offered home delivery in Yulara (town near Uluru); instead they delivered to the local post office, which held the packages for pick-up.
  • All of the carriers had told us by phone that they would deliver packages to Pitcairn Island; but most returned our packages undelivered, citing “No Service”. The DHL driver said that there are only three deliveries a year to Pitcairn Island and by boat only. The next time the boat leaves from Nova Scotia will be September 2008. (See note below.)
  • Several carriers returned our packages intended for Khartoum, telling us that Sudan was embargoed, but without further
    explanation. The only information we could find on the topic seems ambiguous. We contacted the US Department of State, which told us through the US Embassy in Khartoum that it is okay to ship documents to Sudan; they further observed that they use DHL locally.
  • UPS said that they ship to Gaza, Palestine. DHL lists the destination as Gaza City, Israel. USPS would not accept our package, saying that they “could not
    find it” in their IT system. But this travel guide claims that the Palestinian National Authority operates its own post office in Gaza City, prints its own stamps, and is not affiliated with the Israeli Post Office. According to this book the preferred address is Gaza City, Palestinian Territories (PNA).
  • Apparently Israeli customs prevented our packages from being delivered. We phoned the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, and an official said that the package could be delivered only if the intended recipient filed a form in advance identifying who was sending the package, when, from where, and what it contained.


Thanks to our correspondent in Yularra, Australia for this photo (Note Uluru in the background).

Thanks to our correspondent in Yularra, Australia for this photo (Note Uluru in the background).


  • We chose difficult destinations for the 2008 race. In fact they were probably too difficult: No organization was able to deliver
    to Pitcairn Island (see correction below), which was too isolated, or to the Gaza Strip, which was in political turmoil. Only the post office was able to deliver to Khartoum.
  • The USPS enjoys greater “connectivity” than the express package carriers because it hands off to local postal services. This can also be a disadvantage unless the local postal services are effective.
  • The USPS shipments were sent “priority mail”, rather than as expedited mail, which would have been more directly comparable. Yet some USPS shipments arrived nearly as quickly as express deliveries by the commercial carriers and cost one-tenth the price of express carrier service.
  • DHL sent us a detailed explanation of why each returned package could not be delivered. This was appreciated but the letter made reference to the package race and so we wonder whether this friendly gesture would be extended to an anonymous customer.
  • UPS did much better this year in handling packages they deemed undeliverable. They identified and returned them quickly together with an explanation. But they were the slowest in telling us how much the shipments cost.

Late-Breaking News!

(16 December 2008) Long after we thought the race over, we were surprised and delighted to receive this email from Ms. L. Brown of Pitcairn Island:

“Dear Sir or Madam: We received a parcel on the 11th December, this parcel contained Baby Ruth bars which were handed out to the community. […] the parcel arrived in good condition, all our mail arrives on the supply ship then after the sorting process is finished everyone collects their mail which is normally at the end of the day so you still have a long wait until you can find out what has been delivered. […] our next supply ship is not until March 09. Thank you to everyone involved, Merry Christmas to one and all hope 09 is a good year for all.”

On the basis of this, and its successful delivery to Khartoum, and its amazingly low prices, we have to tip our hats to the postal service.



Thanks to Michelle Owen and to the students of ISyE 4803 International Supply Chains for help in preparing and sending the packages; and thanks to the recipients for documenting their arrival!