Who Killed the Air Courier?

by brian on February 17, 2010

Ever heard of AIR COURIERS?

These are people who jump on a plane and deliver a small package to Tokyo. Or legal documents to Paris. To destinations all over the world you could get 30%-80% off the cost of a flight or in a best case scenario get a free flight because someone is desperate to get something transported.

All you have to do is give up your baggage quota so you can carry a package. When you arrive you make a delivery and then can return or stay in the country you’re in.

You say where can I sign up?

The answer – Not many places, because the air courier market has melted like a snowman sitting under a bright sun. Too bad because it was a great way to be spontaneous and save while traveling.

To give you an idea, most of the people who have been couriers last did it in the late 90s and early 2000s, before 9/11.

The air courier’s job and the potential for travelers like us to travel around the world on a whim for a fraction of the cost is not available anymore. Here’s why:

You can send an email attachment with a contract around the world to multiple parties in 10 seconds. Worried about someone reading it in email? You can encrypt it and now it will get there in 12 seconds instead of 10. Much cheaper than a company paying someone to jump on a plane to hand deliver documents. This is even faster than fax machines, which I’m sure initially cut into the courier business.

You can send vital docs from the comfort of your couch

email Who Killed the Air Courier?

In the United States, it is estimated that the volume of postal mail (snail mail) has decreased 20% since 2000. People haven’t stopped communicating, they are just using their email accounts to do it.

Overnight Delivery
When FedEx founder Fred Smith proposed a delivery service in a paper while he was in college, he had no idea what he started. The world became much more interconnected.

Eventually, it also killed the air courier.

Blame the FedEx truck that you can’t get 70% off to Bangkok

fedex Who Killed the Air Courier?

No longer did you need hand delivery. You can sit in your home or office and track your FedEx/UPS package every step of the way, door to door. Even if the most expensive shipping costs $100US, it is still cheaper than sending a human.

Before you could get on a flight, be cleared when you landed, hand the package or documents off to the next party and be on your way to explore. Now everything needs to check against a manifest and airlines and governments check for a customs declaration. The process became much more difficult. Not worth it for anyone.

airportsecurity Who Killed the Air Courier?

Also cargo on passenger planes would sometimes take days to clear customs. So companies would get the air courier, who would clear faster than a cargo shipment. The courier would make the delivery and be on their way. Now with cargo clearing as fast as passengers, overnight delivery services can make their on time schedules at a fraction of the cost.

So if you see air courier ads on this blog or in the newspaper, be wary. Ask lots of questions and find out if you are really getting a deal. Some services want you to pay an annual fee to get new courier opportunities. You may be better off getting a flight yourself where you can take your own luggage as opposed to trying to be a courier.
The air courier – a concept that unfortunately has come and gone for the avid travelers among us.
Photo Credit: copleys
Photo Credit: tomasfano
Photo Credit: redjar

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Under the Radar February 17, 2010 at 10:38 PM

This was interesting…kinda puts into perspective the times we live in.

I used to challenge my university students to imagine their lives in before and since contexts, like before and since 9/11.

Man, it's crazy to see just how much things change from year to year; the tipping points and all that.


Chris Around The World February 19, 2010 at 1:08 PM

It's a shame in some ways that times have changed. Waaay back in 1991, I went to Geneva on a daytrip from London as a courier. I got on the plane in the morning in Heathrow with an envelope, delivered it in Geneva and had the entire day to sightsee before returning that night. Had I known those trips would disappear, I would have gone on more of them!


brian February 21, 2010 at 3:31 PM

@Under the Radar
9/11 shifted many things. Travel especially but alot of things we don't know about or had even thought about. The courier was one of those things people used to travel around the world. Can't do that anymore.

You illustrate the concept of embracing the opportunity NOW while it is available. You never know when it will go away.


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