Coordinating Air Imports of PPE Supplies at ORD

Megan-Stetz-Air-Imports-ORDAs most know by now, Logistics Plus took on the challenge of sourcing, importing, and distributing much needed PPE supplies (personal protective equipment) from China to the United States. We knew there would be obstacles along the way; but thanks to great teamwork and collaboration, we are finding a way to make it happen.

Megan Stetz, an air import operations specialist for Logistics Plus International (LPI) has had her hand on the pulse of the current situation at O’Hare (ORD) airport. Here is her account of those events.

The first import of supplies consisted of 500,000 face masks packaged into 504 cartons, arriving Thursday, April 2nd. As with any new shipment, once it departs at origin, curve balls can be thrown. Shortly after the shipment departed Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG), we completed customs clearance – and that was a huge success. Since the shipment was arriving late in the evening at ORD, pickup was in the afternoon the next day. There was a short delay on breakdown, but nothing out of the usual for an airport pickup. On Saturday, when the shipment arrived into our warehouse, a truck was dispatched to deliver the first batch of PPE supplies to Erie. 

The second import was even more challenging. There were three orders that flew into ORD on Monday, April 6th. In total, 365 more cartons which included face shields, goggles, and KN95 masks. At this point, ORD Airport was starting to see a change in pace. Most handling agents have limited staffing due to COVID-19 regulations – not to mention general call-offs from warehouse workers that did not want to take the risk of the exposure. With staff reductions, there are less people onsite to process incoming freight, handle the paperwork, and load the line of waiting trucks outside their dock doors. Additionally, ORD itself saw a spike in cargo due to the mess at JFK Airport. JFK has been drowning in freight with no light at the end of the tunnel; so, most shipments that have Northeast destinations are now being routed through ORD to avoid JFK. The three orders we had took 42 hours to breakdown (normally would take 4-6 hours) in the warehouse before we had approval to send a driver to collect the freight. The driver had to wait onsite for roughly 6 hours before he was accepted at a dock door. Fortunately, the Logistics Plus domestic (NAD) team did some digging on driver hour regulations – which permits the carrier to be exempt of log hours if he is carrying medical supplies. So fortunately, the driver was finally loaded and able to begin his journey to back to Erie.

The third round of supplies arrived at ORD on Wednesday, April 8th – just two days after the second shipment. ORD was in even worse condition. The warehouse processing our cargo had experienced such an overwhelming amount of freight that they could not breakdown the unit load devices (ULDs) the cargo came on (these are large airline pallets that allow large quantities to be moved together as one unit). Instead, they requested that Logistics Plus collect the ULDs from their warehouse, take it to another warehouse, breakdown the ULDs into our own individual cartons (257 cartons for this order), palletize them, and return the ULDs to the airline when we were done. Once these cartons were palletized, we would arrange for final trucking to Erie.

It is insane to think ORD’s cargo intake has been so drastic that they are making customers breakdown their own freight! But, looking at the bigger picture, with the staff reductions and safety precautions, the warehouses would have a difficult time processing all this freight themselves, even on a normal day. Given that they are receiving mainly freighters and the intended JFK cargo, ORD will have many challenges ahead. Fortunately, Logistics Plus has the benefit of on-site specialists that have good relationships with the airlines, and a local Chicago office and warehouse nearby in case any immediate assistance is needed. These are crazy times, but of course, when a shipment is truly critical … Logistics Plus will always find a solution!