Deliverers Race to Shrink World

Barbara Christopher
Industrial and Systems Engineering
Contact Barbara Christopher
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Caravans used to ply the world's trade routes, depositing goods, people, social
customs, ideas and religious beliefs along the way.

It took days, weeks or months.

It's much easier now.

"But we were surprised to learn that it's not such a flat world after
all, Thomas Friedman notwithstanding," says John
J. Bartholdi
, coordinator of Georgia
Tech's annual Great International Package Delivery Race

Friedman, a New York Times columnist, has argued that the world is "flat" because
the lowering of trade and political barriers, along with technological advances,
have made it possible to reach billions of people quickly across the globe.

Or, not so flat when you're delivering the goods.

"It can be challenging to get a package to Ouagadougou [pronounced Wah-gah-doo-goo],
Burkina Faso [West Africa]," says Bartholdi of this year's
race, which took place in mid-April. Bartholdi and his students
annually use UPS, FedEx and DHL to send packages containing Georgia Tech souvenirs
such as T-shirts, hats and coffee cups. At the same time, the carriers also
raced from Atlanta to Split, the largest city in the Dalmation region of Croatia;
Surabaya, capital of East Java, Indonesia; and Punta Arenas, capital of the
Patagonian region of Chile and one of the world's southernmost cities. (It
recently snowed there.)

The package race was started "just for fun" four years ago, says Bartholdi,
a professor of supply chain management. "We do it each spring. At that
time I am teaching a graduate program and we have students from all over the
world." UPS, FedEx and DHL each has its own freight network. Each delivery
depends on the construction of the network.

For example, FedEx won the race to Ouagadougou, delivering its package in
five days at a cost of $202.82. The package went from Atlanta to Memphis to
Newark, N.J., to Paris and then to Ouagadougou.

UPS delivered its package in six days at a cost of $202.47. It went from
Atlanta to Hapeville to Louisville, Ky.; Philadelphia; Paris; Abidjan, Ivory
Coast; then to Ouagadougou. The package was delayed in Abidjan because a scheduled
flight was canceled.

DHL delivered its package nine days later at a cost of $165.02. It went from
Atlanta to Wilmington, Ohio; New York; Cologne, Germany; Brussels, Belgium;
Lagos, Nigeria, then to Ouagadougou. The package sat in Ouagadougou for several
days before delivery.

DHL said the address was inadequate, according to Bartholdi.

The results have been pretty consistent over the years, Bartholdi says.
For example, DHL generally is cheaper. "And among the few packages that
we send, one always seems to get missent," he says.

That distinction this year went to FedEx. A package destined for Split took
10 days to deliver, twice as long as the other carriers. A keying error by
the pickup courier was to blame. Instead of inputting HV, the Universal Postal
Union Code for Croatia (known by its people as Hrvatska), the courier apparently
input CR, the code for Costa Rica.

UPS won the race to Split, delivering its package in five days, but only
three minutes ahead of DHL. UPS also won to Surabaya, arriving there in four
days. The others followed a day or two later.

DHL was the victor to Punta Arenas. Its package arrived in four days, instead
of six.

Bartholdi says it's not unreasonable to expect that you can
pretty much get a package delivered anywhere in the world in about a week.
Just make sure the address is sufficient.

"The translation of information from the paper form to the computer resulted
in some of our packages enjoying prolonged travel to unexpected places," says Bartholdi,

Putting international package carriers to the test, logistics professor John Bartholdi and
his colleagues shipped a Georgia Tech T-shirt, hat and coffee cup from the
downtown Atlanta campus to four distant points on the globe. Each of the three
major carriers won at least one race, though prices varied and the margin of
victory was sometimes small -- in one case, three minutes! Snafus included
processing errors, especially keying mistakes, and problems with subcontractors.

Additional Information


School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISYE)

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  • Created By: Barbara Christopher
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Jun 10, 2006 - 8:00pm
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 11:07pm