Mail delivery deadlines approaching

Published 11:59 pm Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Time is quickly running out for residents who wish friends and family members to receive their presents through the mail before Christmas Day, with many deadlines for mailing packages out of the country already expired.

Jerry Barlow, postmaster for the U.S. Postal Service office in Andalusia, the deadline for sending packages to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for receipt before Christmas Day was Dec. 4, and today is the deadline for those who wish to send gifts to other areas outside the United States.

“Most of the deadlines have already expired to send something out of the country,” Barlow said. “We are trying to encourage priority mail, especially out of the country. The closer we get to Christmas, the more congested the mail system becomes. We encourage priority mail just to speed it up.”

USPS mail delivery deadlines for Christmas delivery are as follows:

Dec. 11: Military mail for overseas bases other than those in Iraq or Afghanistan, and international first-class and Priority Mail to locations outside Africa and Central and South America.

Dec. 16: Parcel Post (standard mail at the cheapest rate).

Dec. 20: First-class mail (letters, cards and small packages).

Dec. 20: Priority Mail (two- to three-day delivery).

Dec. 23: Express Mail (overnight shipping). This is the most expensive option.

Barlow said parcel counts have been steadily increasing as Christmas draws closer with the historically busiest day just around the corner.

“Usually one week prior to Christmas Eve is our peak day, which will be Dec. 17,” he said. “That seems to hold true every Christmas season. We are trying to build up to that point. We have seen a pretty big parcel count coming into town in and around Andalusia and Covington County.”

The date to send a package is not the only concern residents should consider when mailing gifts to friends and family, according to Barlow. Residents should also ensure the package is correctly packaged.

“Packaging is certainly a big issue,” he said. “The farther away it is going, the more sturdy the box needs to be. If a package is being shipped from here to the West Coast, then it will have to go through some of the bigger mail processing centers. It will be taken and off delivery trucks and the box should be a little thicker to handle the trip.”

Barlow said proper labeling is also a big issue during the holiday season.

“Make sure the label is taped or glued to the package so it will not come off,” he said. “We have people who like to package boxes with wrapping paper and place the label on that thin paper. If the paper tears, then the label will most likely come off. Once the label comes off, then it is a problem. It ends up in the ‘dead letter center’ in Atlanta.”

Other helpful packaging tips suggested by the USPS include:

Cushion items with bubble wrap, newspaper, or “foam peanuts” so they do not shift during transit.

Wrap each item separately when packing more than one item in the same box.

Remove batteries from electronic devices and wrap separately.

Close and shake the box to see if there is enough cushioning. If items are shifting, add more cushioning.

Mark packages “fragile” in large print on the outside of the box when shipping materials that might be more likely to break.

When re-using a box, make sure previous labels and markings are covered before mailing.

Mark “perishable” on packages that contain food or other items that can spoil.

Place an extra address label with the delivery and return address inside the package. This ensures the safe return of an item that could not be delivered should the outside label become damaged or fall off.

Always use tape designed for sealing shipping boxes. Do not use string, cellophane and masking tape to seal packages.

Packages can weigh up to 70 pounds and measure up to 130 inches in combined length and width. Make sure the width is measured around the largest point of the package.

Due to security requirements, stamped packages that weigh more than 13 ounces must be presented to a retail associate at the post office and cannot be dropped in blue collection boxes.

For a complete list of package mailing guidelines and hours of operation for your local post office, visit