In Bush, FedEx means trip to the post office

Most rural Alaskans expecting a package from Federal Express now have to go to the post office to claim it.

The United States Postal Service in June began handling FedEx deliveries out of Anchorage to most remote Alaska communities. FedEx says the new system of converting packages to priority mail saves the company money and allows better tracking and speedier service in most cases.

FedEx, which began service in Alaska in the early 1980s, used to forward packages to Alaska Airlines, which in turn subcontracted to delivery services in rural communities.

"It was not an ideal deal for FedEx or our customers,’’ said Rick Onstott, senior manager of Alaska remote operations in Anchorage. "We had no control over the tracking of the packages.’’

Now the company can track packages by accessing the postal service’s network to find out shipping and delivery status. And packages are often getting to communities quicker through the postal service, Onstott said.

The company historically has lost money from Bush operations; now it’s losing less, Onstott said.

"It improves our bottom line and we believe it’s a better deal for our remote Alaskan customers,’’ Onstott said.

The new system has drawn some criticism, but overall, customers have been pleased, Onstott said.

Skagway customers, for example, used to have packages delivered to their door by subcontracted delivery services.

"Some customers in larger Bush communities are inconvenienced by having to go to the post office,’’ Onstott said.

FedEx does not charge extra for shipping to or from Alaska, but it also has never guaranteed same-day or two-day service in Alaska, especially in the Bush where sometimes packages were delivered by whatever means possible, he said.

"People have assumed we handled packages all the way to a customer’s door but that has never been the case,’’ Onstott said. "In remote Alaska, we’ve never had a purple and white van come rolling up and a courier bouncing out to make deliveries.’’

Large Alaska communities like Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Kodiak and Kenai are not affected by the change in shipping and will still have deliveries made by FedEx, Onstott said.

FedEx customers in Barrow, Bethel, Cordova, Kotzebue, Nome, Petersburg, Unalaska/Dutch Harbor and Wrangell continue to have packages delivered to their doors by contracted delivery agents, Onstott said.

"Those are the communities that have seen consistent day-to-day, year-in and year-out large volumes of service,’’ Onstott said. "Other communities had sporadic volume so it made better sense to convert them to the postal service.’’

Onstott said the true test of the new delivery system will come this month, where holiday packages increase 40 percent for the weeks leading up to Christmas.

12/02/2001 - 8:00pm