Saturday, January 9, 2016

Federal Way post office: the black hole of mail distribution.

People sometimes gripe about the service from the post office.  I haven't had much reason to gripe...that is, until my most recent package sent.  Here is the saga (dates taken from the USPS package tracking):

Dec 14: I take a small package of Christmas presents for my niece and nephew to the little post office I always mail things from, congratulating myself for getting things taken care of in plenty of time.  I mail it Priority Mail because it is a busy time of year.  (note: this is supposed to arrive in two to three days).  Package goes through the main facility in San Francisco on its way out of the Bay Area.

Dec 16:  Package arrives at post office facility in Federal Way, WA. This is expected; it is the closest big sorting facility to its intended final destination about 20 miles away.

Dec 17: Package leaves Federal Way; I assume it will be delivered in the next day or so.

Dec 19: My sister-in-law sends a note letting me know to look out for stuff coming from them for Nim.  I ask "Did you get our package yet?"  Nope.  Hmmm.  Go look at tracking info; nothing new since it left Federal Way a couple of days ago.  Shouldn't take multiple days to go less than 20 miles.

Is it lost?  Wait a couple of days

Dec 20:  Package arrives in Cincinnati.  As in Ohio.  Uh-oh.  Must have gotten mis-routed, may now be late for Christmas.  It spent three days on a truck going from less than 20 miles away from the destination to over 2000 miles away.  Oops.

Dec 21:  Package scanned in Des Moines, IA.  At least now it is going in the right direction.

Dec 24:  Three days have passed, no sign of package, no new tracking information.  I went to the post office to ask about it, and got to talk to a grumpy clerk who told me to look up the tracking information online (I already had), implied that I must have addressed the package incorrectly (pretty sure I hadn't), and grudgingly gave me a 1-800 number to call.  I rode home, and called the number, only to get into automated phone-tree hell, which ended after I repeatedly said "Customer Service" and got a recording saying "Customer service is not available at this time".  With no indication when customer service *might* be available.  And it was only 3:15 pm.  Grrr.  Went back to post office and talked to other (more helpful) clerk, who looked at the weird routing, consulted with someone in the back, and suggested that it would likely arrive in a day or two and to file a claim if it didn't.

Dec 25:  Tracking shows packaged arrived back at the sorting facility in Federal Way.  Yippee!  Surely it will be delivered tomorrow.

Dec 29:  It's been busy with visitor and Christmas festivities, so I hadn't checked for a few days.  On checking, discover that package is back in Cincinnati.   ?????   Huh???  What kind of dumbhead sorting system do they have in Federal Way?  Look up Cincinnati zip code; it is nothing at all like the zip code the package is supposed to go to.  After 3pm, afraid to try to call 1-800 number again; they operate in a different time zone.

Dec 30:  Package shows back up in Federal Way.  Only one day transit time instead of three this time; someone in Ohio probably actually *looked* at the package, said "What on earth is this doing here?", and stuck it on a plane back instead of a truck.

I had great faith at this point. Even with the holiday weekend, surely it will make it in the next day or so.

Lo, foolish person.

Jan 3:  Tracking info now says Chicago.  Chicago??  @#$$#$%@ sort machine in #$%$%^#$* Federal Way doesn't know what the heck it is doing!!!!  Sunday, so I won't get a person if I call the 1-800 number.

Jan 4:  Finally get a human being at the 1-800 number.  She starts looking through the information.
Yes, I sent it on Dec 14
Yes, I wrote the address directly on the box (not on a label that could have fallen off)
Yes, I'm pretty sure I put the correct address on it.
Yes, I've successfully sent things to that address before.
Um -- no -- it wasn't a big box.
Their system shows the package at 14lb.  Um, no!  It is a small box containing two gift cards, a book, and a t-shirt.  I'm now picturing a small package becoming encrusted with barnacles as it ping-pongs repeatedly back and forth across the country.
The agent then looked at everywhere it had been, and pointed out that it should have been pulled by a human way back on Dec 16 in Federal Way, when it looks like the machine tried to scan it six times before giving up and routing it to Cincinnati.  Agent is as baffled as I am as to why it might have gotten stuck in an infinite loop between Washington and Ohio; she speculates that maybe it is stuck to someone else's package.  (What else would make it read at 14lb?)  I gave them the relevant addresses again, got a claim number, and a reassurance that the package with my tracking number would be looked at by a human the next time it was scanned, and that someone would call me at that point.    It was expected to be 48 to 72 hours, as the package was probably on a truck somewhere, trundling its way slowly back towards Washington.

Jan 6: package arrives in Des Moines, Iowa.  Again, I am optimistic that it is heading in the right direction, but also have morbid curiosity to see what happens if it goes through Federal Way again.
(Note that it has been 48 hours and I haven't received a call.)  At this point, it is so late that the saga has become entertainment for all involved.  Where will it go next?

Jan 7: Leaves Des Moines.

Jan 8: Arrives in Seattle.  Maybe it will bypass Federal Way entirely this time.

Jan 8: Delivered to final destination.  For real.  A mere 25 days and three trips back and forth across the country after being mailed.  I could have hopped on my bike and *ridden* it from California to Washington and then gotten back home in that time.    My brother looked at it and couldn't find any reason for it to have gone so far astray.  The address was correct and "couldn't be clearer",  in his words.

Maybe the post office in Federal Way knows how happy I was to escape that town after I graduated from high school and is taking karmic revenge decades later.

I never did get a call back, so have no idea if the claim helped, or if the package merely made it through because it didn't go through the black hole that is the Federal Way mail distribution point on the final leg...

(Merry Christmas, by the way!)






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