It happens all the time, but it's still pretty amazing, almost magic. Even after six in the evening, you can pack up a box and send it almost anywhere in the country, and a lot of places in the world, and it'll be there when you go to work in the morning. The key is the code, the bar code, and an unbelievable organization.
You see them standing in line, maybe you've been there and done that. It absolutely, positively has to get there overnight. Perhaps they're sending some legal documents, or maybe it's just something somebody really wants. Whatever your reason, it's good enough for FedEx.
"We see lots of customers come up frantic, please, take my package, this is something, closing papers, tissue sample, this is something that has to be there tomorrow," Sherry Montgomery, a senior customer service agent at FedEx, told us. "We're more than glad, more than happy to go ahead and take it and try and make sure the customer's happy."
Customers aren't always happy when they come through that door. Most check out the clock to see if they'll make the deadline. Some don't.
Montgomery says it's not unheard of for a customer to need FedEx even after closing. "A customer called me and said, I'm on the way, please, please take my packages, they have to be in France within two days," she said.
"I'd hate to think that the way they drove getting here, but they got here, and if they're here, we'll take care of their packages," said Jeff Wise, a senior manger for Federal Express in Hilton Head, Savannah, and Statesboro. "We've had packages get thrown over the fence. We've had couriers on their way home, going out the gate, and customers stop them and say, please, this has to be to my nephew's house for his birthday tomorrow. This has to be to my wife in New Jersey, tomorrow, because this is the key she left at home."
Sometimes, it really is life or death.
"We had a customer from a local hospital that had a package that had a tissue sample from a child," said Montgomery. "And they were sending it off to some testing, and they had missed a box, so we had to, tried to track them down, at home, and said, can you tell us what needs to go in this box. They ended up calling back, telling us what was in it. It made the difference, they said, without this, this child would die."
The same people who pick up your package in the afternoon, or drop it off in the morning, make sure it gets sorted and sent on its way. From the front counter to the back room, teamwork makes sure your package keeps moving. It takes teamwork. Savannah's center handles packages from across the Low Country and Coastal Empire. Every day, 50 trucks hit the streets and highways, averaging about 600 pickups a day, handling 5,000 packages.
So what's in all those boxes and envelopes? Some things that just might surprise you.
"A lot of folks may not know that we have a cricket farmer up in the Statesboro area," Wise told us. "Every night he ships hundreds of boxes, all across the United States, to the PetSmarts, all the pet stores. So that's one thing you may not think that Federal Express moves, but every morning I come into my office and I can hear the little crickets."
Then, it's off to the plane. The Savannah flight handles just about everything from folks who watch us on TV, Hilton Head to Riceboro, Tybee to Statesboro and beyond. Neatly loaded in big metal containers called "cans" that fit snugly in the FedEx fleet of cargo planes.
It's a big job, moving millions of packages every night, so it takes a big airplane to do it. One alone holds 150,000 pounds of packages, and they've got ore than 600 planes, some bigger, some smaller.
"Our plane has to get to Memphis on time, in order for it to be downloaded, the packages diverted to their proper destination's flight, getting them, the packages getting uploaded again, into the airplane, and then they're flown to their destinations," explained Wise. "If we don't leave on time, we put the whole operation in Memphis at risk. If our flight gets there late, the packages on that plane may not make their destination flights."
In the next part of this series, we'll travel to Memphis to see that operation firsthand.