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How One of the Largest Delivery Services Prepares for Christmas

After learning how UPS delivers Christmas to millions worldwide, you may never complain about your own hectic holiday season again!

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by Michael Brochstein/Sopa Images/Shutterstock (9472885d) Unloading a UPS (United Parcel Service) truck on West 72nd Street in a snow storm in New York City. Winter Storm Toby, New York, USA - 21 Mar 2018
Michael Brochstein/Sopa Images/Shutterstock

The most wonderful time of the year?

Most Americans think Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year. There are gifts to buy, boxes to wrap, parties to attend, homes to decorate, and creative home accounting to figure out how to pay for it all. But at UPS, the Christmas rush is something else entirely. Here’s a look at how one of the biggest shipping and logistics companies on the planet prepares for and then delivers Christmas for hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Follow these holiday shopping tips for a stress-free season.

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When does UPS start prepping for Christmas?

In a way, UPS has been prepping for this particular holiday season all year long. In fact, in 2019, the company has “added about 5 million square feet of highly automated facilities, including nearly 400,000 pieces per hour of sorting capacity,” according to a press release. This is in addition to six new automated super-hubs around the United States.

“This holiday season, we’ve prepared like never before,” said David Abney, UPS chairman and CEO, who added that, “UPS has invested billions in facilities, air fleet, and workforce.” Prepare for and finish your Christmas shopping with these 101 gift ideas for people that are impossible to buy for.

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ups plane
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More brown planes too

This year, UPS reports that 11 new large aircraft have been added to their fleet of 550 brown planes. The new airplanes have added more than 2.5 million pounds of payload and will join in serving more than 800 airports in 220 countries and territories around the world each day. When you learn how many packages UPS is delivering during the Christmas season, you’ll understand why more planes and payload capacity is needed! Find out 13 things FedEx drivers won’t tell you.

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That’s a lot of packages

“During the 2019 peak holiday season, running November 29 through December 30, UPS expects to deliver an average of 32 million packages and documents per day—a 60 percent increase over the 20 million delivered on an average, non-peak day,” reports a UPS press release. That will amount to three-quarters of a billion (that’s billion with a B!) packages and documents delivered by UPS during this Christmas season. Invest in one of these smart doorbells to prevent your precious packages from being nabbed by a porch pirate.

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ups truck

A growing workforce

On November 1st, the company held, “A one-day seasonal hiring blitz called UPS Brown Friday.” That massive event comprised of more than 185 job fairs across the country successfully brought 50,000 new employees on board in a single day. Ultimately UPS hired approximately 100,000 seasonal employees during the 2019 holiday season. Find out 10 ways to make money fast.

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Technological elves

One of the ways UPS is able to manage the increased workload during the busy Christmas season of delivering all the gifts we ordered, is their On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation (ORION). The company says that ORION optimizes 30,000 delivery routes every minute via a complex algorithm to ensure its drivers are following the most efficient driving routes.

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Packing the truck

UPS package loaders also use the ORION system to help pack the trucks at the warehouse. “Our truck is set up with sections marked from 1,000 to 8,000 and the packages are marked and sorted accordingly,” a seasonal work tells Reader’s Digest. This system helps the drivers find the packages that are next up for delivery as efficiently as possible and saves them from having to search through and rearrange all those boxes. Find out 23 things Target workers wish you knew about holiday shopping.

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Out for delivery

Once the driver is out on the road, he relies on his Delivery Information Acquisition Device (DIAD), a handheld electronic device that programs the route, scans packages, and can capture signatures. It lets the driver know which section of the truck to look for the packages in and how many packages are being delivered to each address.

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ups truck
Vytautas Kielaitis/Shutterstock

Time to reload

During the holiday season, after a driver on a busier route has delivered all his packages, he will often meet another driver and truck at a set waypoint. That driver will have new packages that are ready for delivery. Then the drivers, along with any seasonal drivers’ helpers, go through the laborious process of moving and arranging the packages from one truck to the other. Then the original driver and truck head out for the next round of deliveries. Still shopping? You’ll want to check out these 35 last-minute Christmas gifts with free shipping.

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Factoring in the weather

In the event of major snowstorms that could derail expected delivery times, UPS using their Network Planning Tools, or NPT for short. This online platform utilizes AI technology to both forecast volume at UPS facilities around the world and react to nasty weather. According to MIT’s Technology Review, “NPT gives [UPS] engineers a bird’s-eye view of package volume and distribution across its pickup and delivery network,” and find the “best equipped [facility] to handle a large, unplanned shipment and the most efficient way to transport those packages.”

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ups packages
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Holiday deadlines

UPS promises that their network of more than 5,000 stores are ready to, “Assist with every ing this holiday season, including addressing, boxing, measuring, printing and of course, shipping.”

Below are important key shipping dates for Christmas 2019:
Thursday, Dec. 19: Last day to ship UPS 3 Day Select service for packages to be delivered before Christmas Day.
Friday, Dec. 20: Last day to ship UPS 2nd Day Air packages for delivery on Christmas Eve.
Monday, December 23: Last day to ship UPS Next Day Air packages for delivery on Dec. 24.

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Money gift - A dollar banknote with beautiful red gold ribbon- on grunge old wood background
Ariya J/Shutterstock

Gifts for your UPS driver

Even with all the technology, it’s hard work for those UPS drivers and driver’s helpers to carry those packages to your door, not to mention they’re working so hard they may opt to skip their lunch break. They really appreciate when you leave out snacks and beverages with a nice note, as inspired by this recent viral video. Inspired? Here are 32 simple acts of kindness that take two minutes or less.

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What about the returns?

While UPS prepares for a glut of returns to start the week before Christmas, with volume reaching 1.6 million return packages per day, “the second and largest spike in returns, which UPS dubs “National Returns Day,” is expected to occur on January 2. That’s when a whopping 1.9 million packages will be returned through the UPS network. And that will be a whopping 26 percent increase from last year. Here’s how to get a refund on almost anything.

Jeff Bogle
Jeff is a freelance writer who specializes in travel, cars and parenting. In addition to contributing to numerous publications, including the Washington Post, Esquire, Travel + Leisure and Fodor’s, he has written two parenting books. An award-winning photographer, he lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia with his wife, cats and an adorable dog named Ollie.