You think Santa has a hard job delivering millions of packages on a single night? Well, he only does it once a year. FedEx does it every day.
FedEx is constantly moving packages around the world. At any given moment a container of fresh fish from Japan might be heading to a sushi restaurant in New York while a crate of car parts from Detroit travels to a mechanic in Houston.
Getting millions of packages from point A to point B — and having them arrive on time — is a mammoth challenge on the quietest of days. But no day compares to today, when those items are moving across the planet in addition to all of your Christmas gifts. It is expected to be the busiest shipping day in FedEx's history.
Consider this: It takes 669 airplanes, 75,000 trucks and 280,000 workers to move an astonishing 11.3 million pieces of cargo. And if any of it is late, there will be some very upset children Christmas morning.
Memphis, Tenn., is the home of Elvis, the blues and the keystone of FedEx's global network.
From the moment you arrive, you know this place is different. Signs at the airport point passengers to gates and baggage claim, but also announce: "Memphis — America's Distribution Center." An ad in the terminal's hallways reminds you that more cargo goes through this airport than any other airport in the world.
A package sent from Miami to Seattle or Houston to Denver will most likely go through here.
Each night hundreds of airplanes land in Memphis, and roughly 9 million pounds of cargo is unloaded, sorted and then put back on the planes and sent out around the world.
At peak times, one plane is landing or taking off every 30 seconds.
The volume of packages makes it one of the most complicated logistical operations in the world. The Memphis hub covers the space of about 370 football fields and has more than 300 miles of conveyor belts.
Touring the massive facility, it's easy to get dizzy. Something is always moving, whether it be an airplane, baggage cart or the packages. Everything happens with incredible speed.
A package traveling from the West Coast to East Coast will spend just 90 minutes on the ground in Memphis.
Tucked away in a nondescript office park near the Memphis airport is a building that looks like just about any other in corporate America. But inside is a complex network of computers constantly tracking and communicating with each airplane in the massive FedEx fleet.
"There is not a minute of any day where there is not a FedEx jet in the sky somewhere," said Paul Tronsor, managing director of the FedEx Global Operation Control Center. "Whether it be Des Moines, Iowa, or Dubai, [United Arab Emirates] we know exactly where that airplane is and what its route of flight is and when it's supposed to get to its destination."
Projected on video wall — think of NASA's Mission Control — is a map of the world showing the current whereabouts of every plane, the detailed flight and maintenance schedule of each jet for the next six days and a look at developing weather problems.
In this room, last-minute decisions are made to divert a plane from one airport to another because of fog, snow or any other reason.
FedEx employs 15 full-time meteorologists who constantly monitor thunderstorms, blizzards, hurricanes and typhoons around the world.