Holiday mail in 2021 will have slower delivery, higher costs, especially if you are shipping gifts or letters and cards across the country.  Global supply chain issues, elimination of most air mail delivery, and labor shortages due to the pandemic all add up to slower processing and delivery times.  Industry experts project that states west of the Rockies and mainland extremities states, including Texas and Florida, will be the hardest hit.  But according to the USPS, new high speed package sorting equipment and facilities will improve service reliability and efficiency (albeit at higher cost and slower delivery standards).

Large Grumman mail truck

The postal service is adding 45 new facilities and 40,000 seasonal workers, according to Louis DeJoy.  “We’re going to kill it,” he told the Wall Street Journal in an interview in late October.  DeJoy is the Postmaster General, appointed by the Board of Governors for the U.S. Postal Service under the former President.  His tenure has been marked by controversy, from accusations of conflict of interest, questions about campaign fundraising, and creating a new system that creates different standards for mail delivery in different parts of the country.  To date, however, he has had the support of the Board of Governors.

By most standards, mail delivery in the 2020 holiday season was a disaster.  Packages languished in mail distribution regional facilities, sometimes arriving weeks later.  Whether mail service improves or gets worse in the upcoming holiday season remains to be seen.

Mail delivery by plane dates back to 1918, with what was then known as the Post Office Department operating air mail service.  Pilots were expected to fly even under inclement conditions, including wind, snow, and gusty winds.  Flying the mail was risky business.  Crashes were common and the mortality rate among pilots was high.  Between 1918- 1926, thirty-five pilots were killed.  By 1927, flying was much safer, and the postal service turned over the service to private contractors. 

Elimination of most mail delivery by air mail will result in reduced service, a step backwards. This does not seem to be the right way to attract or retain new customers.

One of the key challenges to the finances of the postal service is an overall reduction in the use of First-Class mail.  Starting in October 2021, USPS will offset this loss of revenue with “lengthened service standards.”  Mail delivery time under the old standard was 1-3 days.  Effective Oct. 1, standard delivery time is now 2-5 days.  The actual length of time for a letter or package to reach its destination will depend upon its point of departure, how distant the intended destination, and available shipping routes and distribution centers.

Publishers and online retailers are sounding the alarm about difficulties in shipping and receiving their products.  One recent company email noted “due to unprecedented volume of demand and a shortage of seasonal team members in our distribution center, it is currently taking us about seven days to process your order.”  Banks and other financial institutions are urging customers to do business online or through mobile app, given the likelihood of delayed invoices and statements.

Be prepared for slower delivery, higher costs this holiday season.  The takeaways:  start your shopping early and mail your packages early.


20 Attorneys General File a Complaint to Block the Postal Service’s Strategic Plan by Jonathan Franklin.  NPR, Oct. 7, 2021

Airmail in America (exhibition Feb. 2006 – permanent).  National Postal Museum

DeJoy:  Postal Service to add 45 facilities ahead of holiday season by Caroline Vakil.  The Hill, Oct. 23, 2021

Louis DeJoy Had More Than a Dozen Potential Conflicts of Interest by Alison Durkee.  Forbes, Nov. 3, 2021

New Documents Detail Conflicts of Interest DeJoy faced as Post Office Head by Geoff Bennett and Phil McCausland.  NBC News, Oct. 21, 2021

The Supply Chain Meltdown Will Make Holiday Shopping Messy This Year by Taylor Telford. The Washington Post, Oct. 21, 2021

US Postal Service is adding 45 new facilities and 40,000 seasonal Workers by Sarah Al Arshani.  Business Insider, Oct. 23, 2021

USPS Is About to Charge you More for Slower Mail by Jacob Bogage.  The Washington Post, Oct. 1, 2021

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