« August 2009 Table of Contents
Spotlight: Air cargo
Seafood a priority for some airlines, logistics providers
By Lauren Kramer
August 01, 2009
Every day, seafood is transported across the country, much
of it by air. As seafood shipments have increased over the last
two decades, air cargo personnel have become more adept at
handling the perishable protein and ensuring minimal shrinkage
occurs during transit.
"We transport about 15 million pounds of fresh seafood each
year," says Joe Sprague, VP of cargo at Alaska Airlines.
"That's about 10 percent of the 150 million pounds of air
freight and mail we move."
Moving seafood occupies a significant chunk of business for
Alaska, which primarily ships salmon, but also flies fresh
halibut, live crab, cod and geoducks, a market out of Ketchikan
that has exploded in the past two years. "It's been encouraging
for us to see other fresh seafood products be discovered, and
for us to join the supply chain for these products," Sprague
In the past two years, the company implemented a cold-chain
training program for its cargo agents, something the company
created in partnership with the Alaska Seafood Marketing
Institute. "We're the first passenger airline that ships cargo
to offer formal cold training to our cargo agents," Sprague
says. "It teaches them about the optimal temperature needed to
keep the fish fresh and what they can do to help maintain that
The key to Alaska's cargo program is to keep the seafood
moving. "We have flight lengths that aren't all that long, and
we ensure that when the seafood cargo is stationary it is kept
in coolers and freezers in all our locations," says Sprague.
"We also work closely with our seafood-shipping customers, so
that they drop cargo off from their processing plants as close
as possible to departure time. We try to keep the cold chain in
an efficient, fluid motion so that cargo doesn't get backed up.
It's a carefully choreographed dance between us, the processors
and their customers or couriers at the destination."
Federal Express, another major player in the movement of
seafood via air cargo, has partnered with PeriShip to ensure
perishables reach their destination on time and in mint
Seafood constitutes 60 percent of Periship's business. Over
the past eight years, the logistics provider has built a
process that allows it to proactively manage perishable
shipments as they transit through the Federal Express
"We handle pre and post transactions on behalf of FedEx,
providing an exclusive level of support for shippers but in
such a way that our services are transparent to them," says
Fred Volk, Periship's director of operations.
"We'll help the customer find a proper packaging system, and
when he's ready to ship, we'll monitor variables like weather
and transportation equipment, exchanging internal information
with FedEx around the clock. If there are problems, we resolve
them by working with FedEx and giving the customer frequent
When one customer's seafood was delayed on a flight from
Anchorage, Alaska, to Memphis, Tenn., due to a technical issue,
"we were able to intercept the boxes at the hub and expedite
them to the customer the same day by placing them on a later
flight," says Volk. "If not for us, FedEx would have had to
wait for the customer to call them and find out what was going
on, because they don't have anyone else proactively identifying
The majority of Periship's seafood shipments are salmon,
Maine lobsters, stone crab claws from Florida, grouper, tuna
and Alaska king crab. But seafood cargo shipments have dropped
30 percent year-over-year, says Volk. "I attribute that
decrease mostly to less wholesale demand for seafood," he
D e l ays are always a possibility with air cargo. But
they're infrequent on Alaska Airlines, says Sprague, a company
that has one of the best on-time performances in the industry,
and boasts the second-youngest fleet of planes, he adds.
Seafood constitutes close to 10 percent of Southwest
Airlines' cargo business as well, according to Wally Devereaux,
Southwest's director of cargo sales and marketing.
Tuna and live crabs make up the majority of shipments, and
are transported in passenger planes since Southwest doesn't
have dedicated cargo planes. Product is kept in coolers at its
origin stations, transfer cities and arrival ports. Claims for
damages to seafood shipments are extremely low, he adds.
Year-to-date, Southwest has received claims on less than 1
percent of the total seafood shipments the company has
Southwest recently added Commodity Express service, which
gives processors a 100 percent money-back guarantee that their
shipment will be transported on the next available
"The advantages are shorter time to market, flight-specific
service and the guarantee," says Devereaux. "Our standard
perishable commodity service is not flight- specific and does
not guarantee a specific arrival time."
Cargo insurance is optional, with no industry standard in
place. Sprague says that in the rare instance a technical
problem arises and something under Alaska Airlines' control
goes wrong and the cargo is damaged as a result, the airline
"In 2008 we paid out zero claims for seafood losses," he
says. "That hasn't always been the case, but it was a
significant point of progress for us."
Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British