What It’s Really Like to Be a Package Delivery Guy

Courtesy of UPS

Here’s to the guys who are about to sacrifice their holiday to make ours better. As you can imagine, a day spent delivering heavy, fragile, or time-sensitive packages can be a brutal one. Especially when you realize that these drivers can cover up to 200mi a day and make just as many stops and have to take lessons from penguins (we're dead serious). We spoke with pros at UPS and FedEx Express to find out what it takes to become a courier and what it’s like once they’re actually on the road.


They have to be strong

Depending on the company, some drivers are expected to load their own trucks (and one or two additional trucks, totaling up to 700 packages a day). But even when the truck is loaded for you, you have to be able to pick up the packages to get them off the truck and to the customers’ door. FedEx requires drivers to be able to pick up at least 75lbs on their own. In fact, FedEx considers its employees "industrial athletes," which is a good nickname for any hard scrabble Detroit sports team. 

They're early risers

Most aircraft containers land between 5:30 and 6, which means FedEx Express drivers are loading trucks by 6:30 in order to be pulling out of the station by 8:15. That’s all AM, people. 8:15 AM. And shifts can last up to 12 hours -- especially during the holidays.

<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/jonasschleske/18856385481/" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Jonas Schleske/Flickr</a>

There’s a crazy amount of training

Drivers go through weeks of in-depth training. And at UPS, they’re given a manual called 340 Methods, which covers more like 500 instructions and is, surprisingly, not a Kung Fu movie directed by the RZA . It’s so detailed, it tells couriers how to walk (2.5 paces per second). It even describes how to hold your key ring on your finger with the serrated edge facing down, so that you can start the truck and pull on your seatbelt simultaneously. Why? To shave precious seconds off the route, of course. 

Courtesy of UPS

Part of that training is led by penguins

Well, sort of. During the winter, UPS brings in fleets of penguins from local zoos, so drivers can steal walking tips from the little guys. Turns out, the black-and-white flightless birds know to keep as much of their webbed feet as possible on slippery surfaces. Drivers are taught to do the same with the bottom of their shoes. Whether this is really that practical or more the cutest thing in the whole world... well these guys are partying with penguins either way, so does it really matter?

Courtesy of UPS

They’re even taught how to fall

During UPS’ training, drivers are put into a “slip and fall” machine, which is basically a greased-up runway. They’re rigged into a harness (to keep people from actually hurting themselves) and asked to carry a 10lb box down the surface. Most people flail around like pee-wee ice skaters, but execs say (probably while giggling to themselves) it teaches drivers what it’s like to fall and how to prevent it.

They spend a lot of time in a no-frills truck

Drivers can spend up to 11 hours on the road (legally, they can’t spend a minute more behind the wheel), but their trucks have less amenities than a moped. Because distraction is considered a bad thing, there’s no radio and no added frills in those cold, metal cabs. But there is a cup holder, so that's nice.

<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/mricon/2152860930/" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Konstantin Ryabitsev/Flickr</a>

The weather can really make for a crappy day

If it’s raining or snowing, drivers are always soaking wet when they return to the station at the end of the shift. That’s even with company issued raincoats and pants. There's no way you're carrying an umbrella and the 50 cases of instant ramen the weird dude on Court Street orders like every other week.

Bathroom breaks have to be planned in advance

Know that feeling when you’re on a road trip and just have to go? That’s basically what every day is like for a courier, but they can't just pull over whenever. Instead, like some kind of toilet psychics, they need to plan to be around a public facility exactly when they need to go.

Julie Clopper/Shutterstock

But they can make a decent amount of dough

FedEx Express drivers are paid by the hour, but the company was tight-lipped on the exact figures. UPS, on the other hand, was open, pointing out that drivers make $60,000 to $70,000 a year. That includes a pension and a free healthcare plan. Nice.

They’re basically geographic savants

Some companies give drivers turn-by-turn directions for the day, while others leave it up to the driver to plot out the best route based on their deliveries. Regardless, drivers are often smarter than GPS because they know the roads in their service area better than anyone. They know where traffic backs up and which roads are under construction and when ice-cream truck season will play havoc with everyone (curse you and your joy, children!).  

They hate leaving those "sorry we missed you" tags as much as you hate getting them

There is seriously nothing worse than coming home to one of those Post-It-like door tags telling you that someone tried to drop off your package, but failed. You know you’re destined to get two more of those things before you have to devote an entire afternoon to retrieving said package. But the couriers hate it too: It’s not fuel- or time-efficient and now some poor driver has to make the same stop the next day -- and probably the day after that.

<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/makenosound/2295305979/" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Max Wheeler/Flickr</a>

Although cliché, aggressive dogs really are an issue

Many experienced drivers learn to carry dog treats to bribe angry pups and prove that they’re friendly. FedEx Express trains drivers to honk their horns as they drive up to a house to announce their presence to any dogs who may be hanging out in the yard. Even still, getting bit is a real hazard of the job: Our UPS contact said, despite previously working as a dog trainer, he still got bit three times during his package delivery days.

Speaking of repetition: The day can get repetitive

FedEx Express deliveries are carried out based on the time commitments. So the driver focuses on packages that were promised to arrive by 10:30 first. Then, they’ll do the rest of the load. That means a driver can go into the same building two or three times a day.

Thankfully, parking tickets don't mean squat to them

If a driver has to double park or pull into an illegal spot, they’ll just darn well do it. Why? Because UPS totally understands -- and covers parking tickets. It’s all part of the factored-in operating costs. Reports from 2013 found that FedEx and UPS racked up a combined $2.8 million just in New York City in just three months. Whoops.