Santa's Got Nothing on These Guys

Memphis is the new North Pole: inside FedEx's record-breaking night.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 12:26 AM

MEMPHIS, Tenn., Dec. 17, 2007 — -- 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.

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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.