$100 “Airmail” – WT?

Just a short rant and observation.

Today I tried to send a letter to the UK what was in the old days called “Air Mail” and is now some kind of express mail. I was quoted $100 by the US Post Office for “3 or 4 day delivery”. The weekend you know… or I could have it take a week for a lot less money. “Only” $60-something. I tried Fed Ex. $68 for 4 day (Monday) or over $100 for faster.

I ended up back at the Post Office where I just “put a stamp on it” (that is $1.15 for international). I asked the clerk how long it might take: “3 Weeks”. Have they resurrected sailing ships or what?

In the ’70s to ’80 “Air Mail” as a choice sort of disappeared. Why? Because airlines were selling bulk cargo so cheap the Post Office sent most stuff by air between major distant locations anyway. We’re not talking a package here. We’re talking a letter of one page in an envelope. $100 for SLOWER than the old Air Mail. What The … heck… is going on? IIRC it was about the equivalent of $5 or so for Air Mail back in the ’60s. IIRC it was a 50 ¢ stamp in the time of nickel stamps for regular mail. Uplift by times 10 for inflation is $5. Double that is still only $10. So where’s the other $90 come from? Eh?

I’d sent a signed “permission” document to a UK Lawyer (some relative died and I’m in the will so they need the OK to get a copy and process it). I did this via email as a color full resolution scan of the original. Turns out that wasn’t good enough and they want a physical copy of the original. OK… so now probate gets to sit for 3 more weeks due to crazy high costs for ‘Air Mail’ and a legal system stuck in the 1900s.

So just when did the US Post Office revert to mail by train and steamer boat? Welcome to the 1800’s fastest mail by rail…

This is just such an incredible back slide in product with exponential increase in prices that it verges on the insane. Really. The better part of a month to move a letter, or the next fastest costs 60 TIMES more? And that still takes a week… In this day and age, it ought to be about 4 days for regular mail and $5 if you want it guaranteed delivery via air direct.

Heck, they had “mail planes” in the age of Lindberg. It was what bootstrapped commercial aviation in the USA.

Perhaps we need a “Regression Index”. Take cost in present $$ and a service metric to rank the percentage of quality of service still present. So this would be about 5/68 = 0.07 on the cost ratio; then about 1/4 on the level of typical service. So a QOS rank of about 0.018 now vs the ’70s. Or a regression of 55 times worse “bang for the buck”. Even if my guesses are way off on the values, that’s still “way sucky”. I don’t think better data can fix that.

If I *tried* I don’t think I could make things decay that fast.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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23 Responses to $100 “Airmail” – WT?

  1. Larry Ledwick says:

    If it would not get you in trouble with the TSA, you could drive down to the airport and hand it to some random person flying to UK and ask them to post it when they land. Would be in their system next day.

  2. Power Grab says:

    Pretty bad!

    Last year a friend referred me to play for a student who was going to perform at a district music contest. The friend lives in a town less than 10 miles away. He texted that he had put the music in the mail. I almost said get it back; I will drive down and pick it up from you. I should have done that.

    It took 9 days for that music to reach me from a town less than 10 miles away.

    I needed the music so I could learn to play it and rehearse with the student. I needed it right away. It didn’t come. It didn’t come. Day after day, it didn’t come.

    I finally called all the major music stores in the state and found one an hour and a half away that had the music I needed. So I drove 3 hours round trip to buy my own copy of the music.

    The other music finally arrived days later, after I had begun rehearsals with the student.


  3. Power Grab says:

    Oh…one more thing…I got to play on a lovely grand piano at the district contest.

    The student received a top mark and advanced to the state contest. I ended up playing on a little electric piano at the state level.


  4. Bill in Oz says:

    Very astonishing Cheifio.

    But I remember US Mail was very expensive compared to Oz in 1985 when i lived in Virginia for a while – near Charlottesville. Now Australia Post is also expensive. Been turned into a profit making government enterprise rather than an essential public service.

    By the way, I read that your mum comes from Liverpool. Does that mean you can understand ‘Scouse’ as well as French, Spanish & English ? Both my mum & dad came from Liverpool but I finf the Scouse accent hard to understand.

  5. gallopingcamel says:

    I still send plenty of snail mail to my relatives in good old Blighty. Several of them don’t like computers or smart phones. I provided tablets for both of my sisters but they hardly ever use them. Even though they can Skype me for nothing they prefer to call me on POTS phones that cost $0.30 per minute.

    Recently my snail mail to the UK has been taking 5 days which is impressive. I will be watching for the delivery time to rise.

  6. Steven Fraser says:

    E.M.: Though it may be subject to different laws, a FAX is a physical electronic copy sufficient for signed contracts, at least here in the US. Yes, older tech, but quite usable.

    Beyond that are more recent tech solutions, eg, signed PDFs. If a company can send an invoice by e-mail attachment, this should be solvable.

    FedEx also has international service in 3 tiers, the slowest of which takes 4 days. A pricing modeler is at https://www.fedexfreight.fedex.com/ratingNonSecQuoteList.do

    Good luck!

  7. NOYGDB says:

    ” Larry Ledwick says:
    28 February 2019 at 3:02 am

    If it would not get you in trouble with the TSA, you could drive down to the airport and hand it to some random person flying to UK and ask them to post it when they land. Would be in their system next day.”

    The way Soviet citizens used to do it :) I do feel more like a Soviet citizen these days……

  8. Hifast says:

    At those prices, I’d hang out at SJC for the 7:50 pm British Airways flight to Heathrow and find a nice person to post it when they land. That’s Air Mail!!!

  9. Sera says:

    “In 2016, a new remuneration system was implemented with a focus on e-commerce,[13] but while the 2016 reform balanced the costs to the delivery services, postage costs for shippers are still asymmetric. As of 2018, US companies pay more than twice as much to mail an item from a US plant to a US customer than does a manufacturer in China to mail an item to a US customer.”


  10. E.M.Smith says:

    @Bill In Oz:

    Never had a problem with my relatives. In school I was accused of having something of a British Accent (undoubtedly picked up from Mum). So yeah, I understand “Scouse” fine.


    The word “scouse” is a shortened form of “lobscouse”, whose origin is uncertain.[15] It is related to the Norwegian lapskaus, Swedish lapskojs and Danish labskovs and the Low German Labskaus, and refers to a stew commonly eaten by sailors. In the 19th century, poorer people in Liverpool, Birkenhead, Bootle and Wallasey commonly ate “scouse” as it was a cheap dish, and familiar to the families of seafarers. Outsiders tended to call these people “scousers”.

    That’s my family! Three Generations of sailors in HM Merchant Marine. Scandinavian origin for some of them (lots of blonds, red heads, blue eyes – raised with Norse Legends from Mum, etc.)

    Mum was born in Merseyside.

    I’m no good with Cockney Rhyming Slang though…


    While it is technically a better solution, I’ll not be hanging out at the airport “soliciting” folks. Just not my style… I’m more willing to just drop it in the post and “hope” they didn’t really mean 3 weeks or that is the worst case and 90% of it goes by air anyway…

    The estate has been dragging on for a couple of years anyway, so what’s a couple of more weeks? (Despite everyone being anxious about it and “waiting on me”…) It’s a long story, but after the relative died, the estate went to probate, then that lawyer died after getting about 80% done, then it went to another lawyer, then… and after about 100 weeks I get my first notification… that being that “everyone else is unable to be paid until I send in my approval of the lawyer”… Would have been nice to know I was on the inheritance list 2 years ago… Oh Well.

    Guess I’m just not greedy enough to care that much.


    Good point. I’ll email the lawyer and ask them. We can do international faxes…

  11. View from the Solent says:

    USD100? WTF?
    Last Christmas I sent a card ( <100 grams) from UK to South Korea for less than 2 UK pounds. This was just via regular Post Office air mail.
    Took about a week.

  12. Bill in Oz says:

    My mum’s family were also in the Merchant Marine .One grandfather ( a ship’s engineer ) reportedly died in on board ship off the coast of Belgium round 1937 from pneumonia.

    I’ve had relatives come visit here. And it took me a couple of days to tune in to their scouse accent. I still wonder how a small country like England can have such different accents so close to each other like Manchester & Liverpool – 20 miles apart !

  13. u.k.(us) says:

    Umm, might be kinda fun to send a bunch of letters to known acquaintances, you know, in England or South America, South Africa, or into colluding Russia.
    Asking for delivery times :)

  14. Ed Forbes says:

    3 wks for a letter US to Brit?
    I deal with firms in the UK every once in a while and small packages generaly take about 1 week going by regular mail. Been awhile since I have sent something the other way so it may be the US mail does things different than Brit mail.

  15. E.M.Smith says:

    @Ed Forbes:

    I suspect (hope?) it is a worst case estimate. I fear it’s the truth and the letter spends a few days getting “processed” into a bag to make a long slow truck ride from California to New York, then put on a slow boat to England, then…

    Crossing the country I’ve seen more large 18 wheel trucks with US Post on the side of them over the years… I suspect that to pinch a penny they’ve gone away from air freight (even though it is minuscule cost / letter) to their own fleet of slow trucks… Maybe…

    So a week getting batched up with all the other mail “to Europe”, then a week crossing the country by truck, then a week at sea… I could see it if they did things that stupidly.

  16. Kneel says:

    ” I was quoted $100 by the US Post Office for “3 or 4 day delivery”.”

    I got a “mini-PC” (x86_64) from China, which included “free freight”.
    Power supply died – just a “plug pack” 5V/2A jobbie, easily available as a USB charger or “multi-fit” adapter at any electronic gadget supply company.
    It was cheaper to buy another one locally ($40) than send it back to China ($60+).
    And the new one is designed for our 240V, not an “international” one that covers 90-230V – the first one failed in less than a week, local replacement still going after months.

  17. Steve C says:

    I think all “real” mail services are staggering a bit these days, since so much of what used to be their business has disappeared online. About the only thing keeping the Royal Mail alive is distributing junk mail, which doesn’t help their cause much. The “Penny Post” on a letter is about £0.67 now, too, because they, unlike their commercial opposition, have to provide “Universal service” – the same price stamp gets your letter to the far north of Shetland, or to the other side of town, on the same date, for the same price. Even so, a hundred dollars to transport a piece of paper from A to B is eyewatering – for that price they ought to be putting on a special mail coach for it.

    Funnily enough, my last purchase from the States cost me about $100 delivery – although that was for a parcel containing three pounds twelve ounces of prime metalwork (a genuine Vibroplex semi-auto Morse key), so I don’t feel too hard done by. The other thing I learned on that occasion was that the US postal service won’t insure parcels en route to the UK because so much stuff goes missing at “Thiefrow”, so offer up a quiet prayer for the safe arrival of your document!

  18. H.R. says:

    Email and fax killed the USPS as well as postal services worldwide. Handwritten letters and postcards, which were the gravy train in days of yore, are declining while the number of delivery addresses have been increasing.

    And here’s a vicious circle for you; if you raise rates, say to $2.00, for 1st class letters even more people will opt for email. Classic price up/demand down economics where there is a cheaper alternative.

    Oh, and don’t forget digital imaging and social media. There’s no longer any need to send grandma copies of pictures of your darling little rug rats. Images are now an attachment or posted on Farcebook.

    On the bright side, I think there are still a lot of sales of stamps to collectors that are never used for postage. The sale of a stamp is a contract to deliver a piece of mail, but the postal service is off the hook for physically carrying out their side of the contract. Sadly, I think video gaming is replacing old standby hobbies like stamp collecting and fewer kids are growing up with different ways to spend their spare time.

  19. H.R. says:

    Oh! I worked in aerospace and when there was an AOG (Aircraft On Ground) and a spare part was needed ASAP, we’d often buy the spare part an airline ticket. The part had a seat on the flight (not really, the airline could resell the seat) and someone at the other end would ‘greet’ the part at its destination.

  20. cdquarles says:

    What does the USPS (and maybe the others?) live on? Parcels, business mail (mostly marketing), and government mail, it seems. Interestingly enough, out in the sticks between three incorporated areas, where I live; the USPS, UPS and FEDEX all deliver parcels. Only the USPS does so every business day, barring government/bank holidays. UPS and FEDEX will deliver weekends/holidays, but you pay extra for that. So, most, I guess, don’t. The USPS is marginally cheaper (by law, I think), for deliveries it makes. So, on occasion, UPS and FEDEX use the USPS to deliver stuff to me. There is a FEDEX flight that often passes over my head at night. One has to love that! ;p One often still sees the ATL to BMX (or whatever) mail truck. The truck takes about 2 hours (there is a time zone change, too). The airplane, once in the air, takes about 30 minutes. Total transport time isn’t that much less between ATL and BMX, at night when traffic is lower. During rush hours for either city (1.5 million for BMX, 5 million for ATL) good luck. Folk don’t know how to drive.

  21. H.R. says:

    @Sera – LOL!

    Just put the letter in the container and while you’re at it, put the trash in too, to up your green creds. “Zero percent of my trash goes into a US landfill.” ;o)

    Might also be a good way to get rid of feral cats in the neighborhood. “Here kitty-kitty. You’re going to learn to meow with an English accent.” ;o) ;o)

    The downside is that they ship both ways and once the Brits catch on, it will be a wash.

  22. Sera says:

    @ H.R.:

    Great idea. Btw- it only takes about 10-15 days for a container ship to sail from the US to the UK.

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