The journey of an international parcel

Parcels have been winging their way across the skies as airmail since the early 1900s, although not in great numbers back then, the number of flights containing letters and parcels rose quickly after the Second World War. A much faster alternative to sea or land shipping, sending parcels by air has revolutionised international mail over the last century. Hundreds of tons of mail are now carried by air freight through UK airports every year, and we at ipostparcels deliver countless items every day.

So what happens to my parcel?

Parcels being sent overseas go on quite a journey to reach their destination. Once your parcel leaves your home or workplace in the safe hands of ipostparcels, it has a big adventure ahead of it.

After being collected from you, the parcel will be taken to the local depot. Here it will be sorted and then routed to a hub. All parcels then get sorted once more before being taken to the airport ready for customs clearance.

Clearing customs

On arrival at the airport, parcels will go through customs, being scanned and X-rayed. Items that are restricted or banned for export will not be allowed through, so remember to check the list of Prohibited items for international posting before you book your collection.

It's very important to fill out the necessary customs forms correctly, to ensure it's very clear exactly what is in your parcel and thus prevent it being held up. In certain situations, if the customs agent has any cause for concern, parcels may be scanned again, or even opened and checked. Another security screening method is to use Remote Air Sampling Using Canine Olfaction (RASCO) or sniffer dogs. These dogs are trained to detect certain banned and restricted items to combat prohibited goods leaving the country.

Certified mail agents will be responsible for scanning each package and securely delivering it to the correct aircraft. Usually the packages will be collated into mailbags or containers for ease.

Then, it's time for your parcel to board the aircraft. It's likely your parcel will travel in the cargo hold of a regular passenger airplane. However, mail will sometimes travel in designated cargo planes on routes where there is a high volume of cargo. It can get a little cool in the hold but the belly of most aircraft will have an average temperature of around seven degrees Celsius.

Arriving in foreign climes

On arrival in the country of destination, the parcel will be unloaded after all passenger luggage has been removed, then packed onto the baggage cart by ground handling agents on the runway. It will then be checked before making its way to customs for screening again.

Clearing customs… again

This is where mail will be checked over again, this time with the relevant country restrictions and prohibitions in mind. The same principles apply at this stage, with customs agents checking over the parcels, reading the international invoices and ensuring the contents are fit to be cleared. Sniffer dogs may be used again, as may scanning and x-ray equipment. Invoices without sufficient documentation and description will not be cleared, so it’s vital this is done correctly when you get your items ready for sending. 

Back on the road

Once released from the airport, your parcel will be sorted locally before travelling to a delivery depot. Then it will be off to its final destination, usually by van, where it will arrive safely with the recipient. Remember that some countries are vast, with more remote locations a fair distance away from the airport, so there could be substantial transit miles still to go.

When you see the stages involved, it’s clear how important it is to check your items for suitability, label you parcels correctly and clearly, consider the potential temperatures and weather conditions experienced along the way so you can packaged them well for the journey ahead. Do all these things right, and your parcel will arrive at it’s destination in good time and in the same condition that you sent it.

Related content:

How to protect items in transit
How to save money on packaging
Help going green with your packaging
Sending large and heavy items in the post
Waterproofing and packaging your parcel
Packaging parcels for international delivery

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