Cascading Flight Cancellations Snarl Airfreight Shipments

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Freight forwarders playing ‘whack-a-mole’ amid staff crunch and bad weather as they hunt for scarce potential

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This has forced freight forwarders who are shipping goods between air carriers and companies to scramble for alternative flights, and to restart shipments from clothing and pharmaceuticals to printer cartridges and electronics. Those who fly in the bell of passenger planes.

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The cancellations have delayed deliveries and added to transportation costs for retailers and manufacturers seeking to fly goods to closed sea ports around the world.

Itasca, Ill.-based AIT Worldwide Logistics Inc. recently had to switch airlines for a 100-ton shipment scheduled to fly from the US to Hong Kong for a major technology customer because the first carrier didn’t have enough ground handlers to take off. The cargo is at its destination, AIT chief executive Von Moore said.

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“We had to move around very quickly,” Moore said, adding that the past several weeks have been “extremely taxing”, with staff shortages and quarantine rules for crew members complicating air-cargo operations. In some cases, AITs have changed airports and even transported goods by truck to their final destination.

American Airlines has canceled more than a thousand flights daily in the past two weeks. fedex Corporation

It said last week that the spread of the Omicron version was causing staff shortages and delays in air-travel shipments.

Mark Schlossberg, executive vice president of airfreight at Unique Logistics International Inc., a New York-based freight forwarder, said the freight forwarders at Tumult are “literally playing whack-a-mole” as they try to rebook cargo.

On December 30, a flight from Hanoi to the US loaded with cargo for a unique logistics fashion retailer customer was canceled because there were not enough crew members due to Omicron-related quarantines. It took several days for Unique Logistics to get the cargo from Vietnam on another jet, Mr Schlossberg said.

Brian Bourke, chief development officer of Seiko Logistics LLC, another freight forwarder based in Itasca outside Chicago, said disruptions in recent weeks have delayed air cargo shipments by two to four days.

On January 7, Seko warned customers that “freight to and from many cities across the continental US via domestic airfreight was facing challenges” due to weather and COVID-19-related labor shortages. The company plans to issue another alert this week warning of disruption to all modes of freight, Mr Bourke said.

Airfreight demand has soared in recent months as companies sought to fly freight around bottlenecks in supply chains.

Brandon Fried, executive director of the Airforwarders Association, a trade group, said shippers are increasingly using airfreight for heavy items such as exercise bikes and low-value items such as discount store merchandise, which are typically shipped by sea. “Typically, it’s electronics and high-value goods that have a definite market shelf life” that will travel by air, he said.

Demand softened in December, but remains elevated compared to the same month in 2020, Mr Fried said, “and this is probably a direct result of overcrowding at ports”.

Write Lydia O’Neal at [email protected]

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