Those who plan on sending Christmas gifts to the United States this holiday season may want to think twice now that parcel delivery companies are restricting U.S.-bound mail at the behest of airlines complying with new U.S. counterterrorism measures.
The extent of the restrictions varies with each company, but U.S. aviation authorities are expected to maintain them for the time being, throwing a kink into the gift-giving season as 2010 prepares to wrap itself up.
Below are a few questions and answers on the new mail restrictions.
Why were the restrictions adopted?
To prevent terrorists from blowing up airplanes with explosives hidden in packages. Counterterrorism teams foiled a terrorist plot in late October by intercepting two suspicious packages in Britain and Dubai that were being sent to Chicago on two overnight cargo planes from Yemen. The packages contained bombs.
The bombs found at Britain’s East Midlands airport and in Dubai contained explosives that were hidden in ink cartridges used in computer printers. The cartridges were then deemed by U.S. President Barack Obama as a credible terrorist threat against the U.S.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration thus asked airlines to tighten cargo security, which led to new restrictions.
What are the restrictions?
Japan Post Services Co. stopped accepting U.S.-bound airmail weighing 453 grams (1 pound) or more on Nov. 17. The restriction applies to parcels sent to the U.S. or its territories, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but will not apply to parcels shipped by sea or by regular customers who use a service that allows them to pay for delivery afterward.
A Japan Post representative said the carrier delivers an average of 16 million parcels a year to the U.S. and that about 2.5 million of them, or 200,000 parcels per month, are expected to be affected by the new weight limit.
Contrary to Japan Post, the Japanese units of FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service of America Inc., both of which own their own cargo planes, said they have not introduced any specific new restrictions on U.S.-bound mail except for ink or toner cartridges.
Both FedEx and UPS say on their Web sites that they will not deliver ink and toner cartridges for printers, as well as printers weighing over 500 grams, to or from Britain.
DHL International GmbH said packages bound for or passing through the U.S. will undergo X-ray inspections that could delay delivery by about a day. But new customers or those who registered with DHL less than 30 days before Nov. 12 will be banned from sending printer or toner cartridges to the U.S.
Overseas Courier Service Ltd. stopped accepting all packages weighing over 450 grams for delivery to the U.S., Latin America, Europe and Africa beginning Nov. 12. OCS also will reject cargo bearing unclear content descriptions, such as “personal effects” and “household goods.”
A representative said customers will have to indicate precisely what is inside the packages if they wish to have them delivered.
Why do the restrictions on U.S.-bound mail differ?
Because the various delivery services are responding individually to the new security demands on U.S.-bound mail.
A Nov. 8 statement released by Secretary Janet Napolitano of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said that following “the thwarted terrorist plot last week to conceal and ship explosive devices on board aircraft bound for the U.S., the administration took a number of immediate steps to increase security by tightening existing measures related to cargo bound for the United States.”
The statement said that no high-risk cargo will be allowed on passenger aircraft. It also said that toner and ink cartridges weighing more than 473 grams will be prohibited on passenger aircraft in both carry-on and checked baggage on domestic and international flights.
It said the ban will also apply to “certain in-bound international air cargo shipments,” and all cargo identified as high-risk will go through additional screening.
Napolitano’s statement said these measures also affect in-bound packages from overseas, which must be screened individually and certified as coming from an “established postal shipper.”