Postal deadlines for sending holiday packages loom

Postal deadlines for sending holiday packages loom

by: David Hurwitz
Stripes Guam
published: November 30, 2012
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The holiday season is here and postal officials are urging users of the military postal service to mail cards and presents as early as possible due to the expected increase in volume during the peak end-of-year season.

To assist customers in ensuring that packages are delivered in time, the Military Postal Service Agency has released its annual recommended mail-by dates for theaters around the world.

These dates are just a guideline, however, said Master Sgt. Marc Nickelberry, postmaster at Yokota Air Base, Japan, and people should carefully consider which type of mail service to use depending on when they arrange shipment.

“When they get to the counter, some people just ask for the cheapest way of shipping, and choose SAM (space-available mail),” said Nickelberry. “But space-available is just that, space-available. If there is no space on the plane, (your package) may not get there in time.”

Nickelberry has other useful suggestions for customers based on his 16 years of experience with the military postal service:

The most important thing is how you pack your package. You want to make sure the box isn’t too big so the items inside can’t move around during transport and get damaged. You also want to ensure there is enough packing material so your things aren’t crushed when other packages are placed on top of it. 

If you’re sending a package to another APO, make sure you do not list the country the item is going to – otherwise it might enter the international mail system, causing delay. Just list the correct APO.

Make sure the customs form is filled out correctly. List all the items and the correct value of each. At the counter, we screen the customs form to see if the things are labeled “gifts” or “merchandise.” We can’t accept a package using that kind of description. It must be more specific. Remember, customs can search the box if they deem it necessary, and that could cause delay.

If you’re concerned about things getting broken and if they are of significant value, insure them and do so for the amount you paid for them. Counter staff are trained to check to see if boxes are properly packed, but they can’t find everything.

If you send perishables, make sure they are properly packed. Also, make sure the country you are sending them to accepts that type of food.

Alcohol CANNOT be sent through the mail.

Gunnery Sgt. Ashild Ruiz, who is stationed on Okinawa, and has 15 years of experience in the postal service, also has some suggestions:

Remember that the post office no longer provides packaging tape. Be sure to make sure your packages are all taped before you come to the post office. It might be good to bring some extra tape just in case.

Have the mailing labels and customs forms filled out before coming to the PO so that you don’t hold up the other people in line. And don’t use the customs form as an address label. Have a separate address label on the package in case the customs form is defaced or falls off.

You CANNOT mail lithium batteries like those used in iPods, iPads and other electronic items. The U.S. Post Office doesn’t accept them. Take them out before sending such items.

Don’t send liquids or alcohol because if they leak they will ruin other items in your package as well as the packages of other people. If you must send liquids, be especially careful when packing them.

The Military Postal Service Agency provides different classes of mail when sending packages between countries. From least to most expensive, these are Space-Available (SAM), Parcel Airlift (PAL), First Class, Priority, and Express Mail.

Space-Available (SAM) – The cheapest service because packages take longer to reach a destination. It offers air transport of parcels on a space-available basis to or from military post offices outside the U.S and surface transport within the U.S. There is a weight limit of 70 pounds and a combined length and girth limit of 130 inches.

Parcel Airlift (PAL) – Uses air transport on a space-available basis similar to SAM plus air transport to the destination city or the city nearest to it inside the U.S. There is a weight limit of 30 pounds and a combined length and girth limit of 60 inches.

First Class – Handles items weighing up to 13 ounces. Flat-rate packaging available.

Priority – Same as First-Class mail but for items weighing over 13 ounces to 70 pounds. Combined length and girth limit of 108 inches. Flat-rate packaging available.

Express Mail Military Service (EMMS) – Offers preferred and/or expedited service. Not available from all USAFE APOs.

The U.S. Postal Service delivers letters and packages to more than 500 military post offices worldwide. Many of them will extend their business hours or open for additional days during the holiday season, including remaining open later on Christmas Eve to make sure that everyone can receive the cards and packages that have arrived. Check with the post office on your base for information on holiday hours.

Extra Services

The post office provides extra services to increase the protection of mailed items, offer reimbursement in case of loss or damage, and gives customers peace of mind that their mail will be delivered safe and sound. Among them are:

Insurance – Offers coverage against loss or damage up to $5,000, with the price based on the declared value of the item(s).

Registered – Offers maximum security, insuring items up to $25,000, with the price based on the declared value of the item(s). Tracks movement of mail from beginning to end

Certified – Provides evidence of mailing as well as the date and time of delivery or attempted delivery. Requires the recipient to sign for the delivery.

Delivery Confirmation – Shows when an item was delivered or when delivery was attempted using a Track and Confirm tool you can use on your computer.

Certificate of Mailing – Offers evidence of the date your mail was accepted by the post office.

Return Receipt – Provides proof that an item was delivered, through a postcard or email showing the signature of the recipient.

Restricted Delivery – Specifies who can sign for and receive your mail

Special Handling – Offers preferential handling if you’re sending something that needs extra care.

Mailing Tips
Print names and addresses of both shipper and recipient clearly on packages with a pen or permanent marker. Put an extra label with the addresses inside the package in case the original one is defaced. Also include an itemized list of contents.

Select a box strong enough to protect the contents and appropriate for the amount and size of items inside.

Leave space for cushioning inside the carton, using bubble wrap, Styrofoam peanuts, or newspaper to protect the contents.

Use tape designed for shipping, using enough to secure the opening and seams of the box.

Put newspaper or packing material in hollow items to avoid damage during transport.

Write “fragile” or “perishable” on packages when shipping such items.

Use boxes, envelopes and tubes the post office provides for Express Mail and Priority Mail.

For the suggested mail-by dates from the U.S. to APO/FPO/DPO, see  the back page of this guide.

Suggested mail-by dates from European Theater to U.S.

Space-Available (SAM) – Nov. 26
Parcel Airlift (PAL) – Dec. 3
First Class/Priority Mail – Dec. 10
Express (EMMS) – Dec. 18

Suggested mail-by dates from Pacific Theater to U.S.
Korea

Space-Available (SAM) – Dec. 1
Parcel Airlift (PAL) – Dec. 1
First Class/Priority – Dec. 10
Express (EMMS) – Dec. 17

Mainland Japan
Space-Available (SAM) – Nov. 26
Parcel Airlift (PAL) – Dec. 3
First Class/Priority – Dec. 10
Express (EMMS) – Dec. 17

Okinawa
Space-Available (SAM) – Dec.3
Parcel Airlift (PAL) – Dec. 3
First Class/Priority Mail – Dec. 10
Express (EMMS) – Dec. 17

Australia
Space-Available (SAM) – Nov. 23
Parcel Airlift (PAL) – Nov. 30
First Class/Priority – Dec. 7
Express (EMMS) – Dec. 14

Thailand
Space-Available (SAM) – Nov. 30
Parcel Airlift (PAL) – N/A
First Class/Priority – Dec. 7
Express (EMMS)  – Dec. 14

Source: Military Postal Service Agency and U.S. Postal System

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