Inside look: How UPS is handling supply chain issues ahead of the holidays


ST. LOUIS – FOX 2’s coverage of the impact of supply chain issues in St. Louis continues Tuesday with a series of exclusive reports and our 30-minute special report, “Season of Shortages,” which airs at 9:30 p.m. on FOX 2 in conjunction with KMOX NewsRadio 1120.

FOX 2 arranged an all-access look at the efforts of UPS to get your packages where they need to go with the holiday season quickly approaching.

There’s also a potential long-term solution that involves putting shipping containers onto the Mississippi River.

For now, UPS planes are stuffed to the walls with packages in large containers shaped like the fuselages of the planes to maximize space. Even the bellies of the planes are filled with packages.

The only people on the flights are those in the cockpit. Like all of the packages, they exit the planes on the tarmac.

One plane from a hub in Rockford, Illinois, and another from Louisville, Kentucky, arrive daily—around 4:30 a.m.—at St. Louis-Lambert International Airport. They depart later that night, stuffed with packages being sent from St. Louis.

The packages that have been unloaded go into trucks bound for sorting centers and delivery trucks from Earth City in St. Louis County, west to Columbia/Jefferson City, east to Belleville/Alton, Illinois, north to Quincy, Illinois, and south to Cape Girardeau.

Earth City can process up to 750,000 packages an hour, according to UPS Division Manager Ron Hines.

“UPS is focused on the small package side of the chain. So, once it gets to us, we’ll have no problem getting the package to everyone who orders,” he said.

Still, UPS is looking to hire 1,900 workers in St. Louis for the holiday rush. Both it and Amazon will add a third daily flight into and out of St. Louis next week.

The UPS planes ferry 35,000 to 80,000 pounds of packages, each, with roughly 35,000 packages arriving and 20,000 departing every daily during the peak of the holiday season.

The hiring season comes amid a shortage of workers, who are holding out for higher pay, better hours, and benefits.

“It literally is a game of chicken,” said Dr. Jerome Katz, a St. Louis University business professor. “You have America’s workers on one side, and you’ve got the entrepreneurs and managers on the other. it’s a question of who’s going to budge first.”

Against this backdrop, comes a possible long-term solution: a plan from a Florida company to put shipping containers onto the Mississippi River aboard newly designed vessels to a port in Jefferson County, through a proposed new port at Plaquemines, Louisiana, near the mouth of the Mississippi.

It would allow merchants to more quickly reach most of the United States while entirely avoiding the log-jammed ports on the east and west coasts.

“To get a container to here you’ve got to bring it in through (Los Angeles), ship it across ground, maybe six months later it gets here… this really could change the world,” said Derrick Good, president of the Jefferson County Port Authority.

However, the earliest we’d see those new container vessels on the Mississippi River is 2023.

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