U.S. Postal Service
*Dec. 20: First Class Mail
*Dec. 21: Priority Mail
*Dec. 23: Priority Mail Express
*Dec 19: FedEx Express Saver
*Dec. 24: FedEx First Overnight
*Dec. 25: FedEx Same Day
Dec. 19: UPS 3 Day Select
Dec. 20: UPS 2nd Day Air
Dec. 23: UPS Next Day Air
Sources: UPS, FedEx, U.S. Postal Service
* Use a sturdy box: Priority Mail boxes are free at the post office
* Remove all batteries from electronics
* Place a duplicate shipping label inside your box in case the outside is damaged
* Using the wrong ZIP code is worse than not using any zipcode. Look up ZIP codes at www.usps.com.
Source: U.S. Postal Service
Kendra Komula packed up a homemade pixie hoodie, some German CDs, a how-to-make cheese cookbook and a dog toy to send to her daughter-in-law and son in Oklahoma for Christmas.
Then she handed her little brown box over the counter at the post office on North Market Street and her solitary Christmas bundle joined the 420 million other packages the U.S. Postal Service will deliver this holiday season -- many of those today, the single busiest package day of the year.
"The packages are booming," laughed Katrina White, customer service supervisor at the North Market post office. "And we appreciate the business."
Increased e-commerce and an improving economy are pushing holiday shipping to record levels this year at the nation's major shippers. FedEx delivered 22 million packages Monday, which was the company's all-time one-day high and 11 percent higher than last year's busiest day. UPS delivered 300 packages a second on Wednesday -- that's speedier than a hummingbird's wings, which beat about 50 times a second.
White said her post office location has just one holiday tradition.
"Just get plenty of rest around the Christmas holiday," she said. "Because you're going to need it."
At FedEx, planning for the holiday shipping rush starts as soon as Jan. 1 rolls around, said FedEx spokesman Scott Fiedler. The plan is refined during the summer and solidified by fall.
"As we move into this last week, this is our Super Bowl," he said. "This is our big game that we've been preparing for all year."
The company adds about 20,000 temporary workers every year during the holidays, Fiedler said, and existing employees work longer hours. FedEx also keeps 15 meteorologists on staff to help divert shipments around bad weather and keep deliveries on time.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, everyone is on their toes, Fiedler said.
"The volume increases, the sense of urgency increases, the focus on safety and making sure procedures are done right increases because the pressure increases," he said. "Let's face it, we're Santa's helper and we help deliver Christmas."
UPS hires about 55,000 temporary workers and calls the week between Dec. 16 and Dec. 20 "Peak Week." The delivery company reports it will use about 100,000 vehicles and 2,388 cargo flights during Peak Week.
With hundreds of millions of packages crisscrossing the United States and eventually landing on front porches, in mailboxes and driveways, some thieves target deliveries.
FedEx offers a new service this year to help combat theft: alerts can be sent to customers when packages are dropped off, Fielder said. And drivers are trained to notice suspicious activity, like someone following them.
"If they don't feel it's safe, they will not leave the package," he said.
Back on North Market, White said the office is sending out multiple truckloads each day and the processing equipment is running at full capacity. About 130 million customers will stop by a post office during the holidays, according to the USPS.
The lobby on Market was crowded Wednesday afternoon, with most guests holding multiple boxes and cards. Customer Lisa Pozdol tried several boxes for the cashmere blanket and gift card she was sending to her mom in Chicago.
"This is our first year not together," she said, frowning as she realized the box she was trying was too small. She grabbed another size and added that she's not worried about sending her package into the organized chaos that is the holiday shipping rush.
"I've never had issues," she said. "All of my stuff has gotten where it is supposed to go."
Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or email@example.com.