“No One Cares If You Write ‘Fragile'” And Other Tips From A Former UPS Worker

With millions of people prepping to ship off gifts to loved ones and familial obligations around the globe, the holidays are prime time for UPS and FedEx. With that glut of parcels, many containing precious items, there comes the heightened chance that your package will be crushed, dropped, kicked, dropkicked, and otherwise run through the wringer. But a former UPS employee says there are ways to minimize the likelihood of damage.

In a humorous but helpful post on Cracked.com, Sarah Ohlms — a self-described former “Yuletide package-loading zombie for UPS” — offers some insight and tips from her time tossing boxes on to trucks at the company.

Here are some of the highlights:

Don’t Write “Fragile” on the Box
Just because you, like just about everyone else shipping something that could break, write the word “fragile” on the side of your package doesn’t mean the folks at UPS will put it on a special, pillow-covered conveyor belt that leads to a special truck where fragile packages are protected by air bags and armed guards.

Sarah points to the 2010 Popular Mechanics test that put sensors inside of packages and measured how much trauma they suffered en route. Some of the packages were marked fragile and in the end, those “received more abuse.”

“Why? Well, sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but some people in this world are just terrible,” writes Sarah. “And those people will actually treat your package worse if you write “fragile” on it. Maybe they felt that their ability to do their job was being challenged.”

She says the only way to get true white-glove service from UPS is to fork over extra cash to have your parcel escorted through the shipping process as a “high value” package.

Don’t Reuse Boxes
Another possible reason that people disregard the “fragile” note — it was placed on the package by the person who previously used that same box.

Something else people leave on reused boxes: the old shipping labels.

“No, we have no way of knowing which is which,” writes Sarah, “when the packages tumble down to the sorters and loaders, if they see a label on whatever side of the box happens to be up, that’s where the box is going.”

She says that, when confronted with two labels, she usually goes with whichever one is cleaner, “as I figure it’s been through the system fewer times, making it newer… But even then, there’s no guarantee that your box will end up anywhere at all.”

Camouflage It as a Heartwarming Gift
While “fragile” may just end up getting your package tossed in a river, Sarah says that she has a soft spot for parcels that have a personal touch.

“My default is to curse every package that comes down that slide. Anything that sticks out is going to brighten my day,” she writes. “So if you want your package handled a little more tenderly, give it to your small child (or a friend’s child — anyone’s child will do) and let them write on it in crayon.”

It may not get your package treated like a Faberge egg, but it might help remind the UPS employee that this is a package sent by a real human.

“I see all the crayon scribbles and poorly spelled adulation for mom, or grandpa, or whoever the hell, and all I can picture is a toddler sending his beloved teddy bear to grandma on the raisin ranch because she only has days to live,” explains Sarah. “And I’ll be goddamned if I’ll let anything happen to that teddy!”

5 Reasons Packages Get Destroyed (Learned Working at UPS) [Cracked.com]

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  1. AsspenIT says:

    I love Cracked!

    That being said, is it a good source for Consumerist? Not judging, just making a comment (because I can now, thanks Consumerist!)

  2. radioone says:

    I love reading from stories from inside sources. It reminds us that people who service us are human and subject to foibles and follies as well.

  3. SingleMaltGeek says:

    This makes sense….but it’s also a sample size of one. There may be more than a few UPS employees who hate kids and who target the type of packaging that the author advises us to use for fragile items.

    Now if Consumer Reports shipped a few dozen accelerometers with a variety of packaging and decoration/signage, and reported on their condition when they arrived, THAT would be helpful. :)

  4. nchiker says:

    I worked at UPS a long time ago. I never had time to inspect whether a package said fragile. Just scan the thing and load or throw it onto the tracker trailer. You pack the regular and big boxes in a wall and the little boxes come to you in a big bag from another department and you throw that on top when you can’t reach the top of the wall anymore. Towards the end of the night, things get crazy and you are stacking like crazy and throwing things around when they dump piles on you and yell at you to hurry up. And when they call you to help someone else immediately, you have to wade and climb over the boxes in the way to get there. Crunch!

    My tips- pack very well. Bubble wrap or cushion. I have seen stuff torn to hell, but because they were well wrapped, everything was good. Don’t make things look like food. I have seen too many times where employees tore open a box of known food and chowed down, usually candy.

  5. Mapache says:

    The cooler idea is great, better that the hig value package although I did break my wrist hitting it with a baseball bat

  6. AMysteriousStranger says:

    Am I the only one that is bothered by the amount of stories that come through here with “insider perspectives” on things?

    And by that I mean: “I am a total jerk, except under these conditions…”

    What ever happened to just doing your job the best you can, regardless of what the package says on it? Why is there always a threshold for “I’m fine until I hit X, and then I’m a complete jerk… and I’m fine with this, and have no shame in admitting it or writing about it”?

    When I go to work, I do the best job I can. It doesn’t matter what the package says, and it doesn’t matter how ‘nice’ a person is to me. What matters to me is doing the best I can do, because that’s what I’m paid to do. And I’m not a complete and total dirt bag.

    • robinm says:

      Totally agreed. So if I don’t have access to a small child who can draw on a package for me, I’m out of luck? Doesn’t really seem right. I’m paying for a service, so please provide that service.

      If I wanted my package to be mangled and maybe get lost, I’d just use the mail.

  7. AngeMaiden says:

    I run a mail order business, shipping a lot of antique glass items…lamps, clocks, stuff like that. I never write Fragile on the box. I just make sure they’re packaged well, double boxed, tons of cushioning/void fill. I’ve never had anything arrive to a customer broken. On the other hand I have received broken goods before and almost every time the box always said FRAGILE all over it.