Cargo Carriers Say Passenger Airlines Vaccine Capacity Not Needed

When it comes to the enormous task of COVID-19 vaccine distribution in the United States, FedEx and UPS will be teaming up and taking the strategy of ‘divide and conquer.’ As part of the US government’s ‘Operation Warp Speed,’ each freight and shipping company will be responsible for one half of the country. Addressing the Senate’s Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety to discuss the logistics of transporting a COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, the leaders of both companies stated that domestic distribution could be handled without involving passenger airlines.

UPS Boeing 757-
The vaccine in question is the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which must be stored at or below minus 70 degrees Celcius. Photo: Vincenzo Pace |

FedEx and UPS are ready

According to Airways Magazine, FedEx will deliver the vaccine to the western half of the United States while UPS will deliver to the Eastern half. While neither company has confirmed themselves which side they will be taking, respective leaders have issued statements discussing this coordinated effort.

“Of course, FedEx and UPS have split the country into two…We know exactly what states we have, and they know what states they have.” -Wes Wheeler, President of Global Healthcare at UPS via Commercial Appeal

FedEx Dc-10
Sources indicate that FedEx will manage vaccine distribution for the western portion of the United States while UPS will tackle the East. Photo: Vincenzo Pace |

FedEx provided Simple Flying with the following statement:

“FedEx is working closely with Pfizer and other healthcare customers alongside federal, state and local officials to prepare for the shipment of COVID-19 vaccines when they are approved and ready for distribution.” -FedEx Spokesperson

No passenger airlines needed

Despite the three major carriers Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and American Airlines, all having conducted test flights in preparation for delivering the vaccines, officials at FedEx and UPS have stated that they believe their companies can handle domestic distribution without needing to call on US passenger airlines.

Having well-established infrastructure and delivery systems, both companies are confident that their extensive networks will ensure a swift and speedy distribution process.

Last month Simple Flying reported that United Airlines asked for permission to carry more dry ice than is typically allowed to maintain the significantly low temperatures needed to distribute Pfizer’s vaccine. The airline has plans to perform chartered cargo services between Brussels International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport to support distribution.

United planes getty
United had already flown the vaccine from Belgium to Chicago. Photo: Getty Images

As for the other two airlines, Delta has warehouses and cooler facilities in Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York-JFK, and Seattle to accommodate the vaccines while American Airlines has started to conduct trial vaccine flights from Miami to South America on its Boeing 777-200 aircraft.

Waiting for FDA authorization

All companies and organizations involved in this massive undertaking are anxiously awaiting approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who issued the following statement today:

“Following yesterday’s positive advisory committee meeting outcome regarding the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has informed the sponsor that it will rapidly work toward finalization and issuance of an emergency use authorization. The agency has also notified the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Operation Warp Speed, so they can execute their plans for timely vaccine distribution.”

COVID-19 Vaccine
There are currently at least two promising vaccine candidates. The Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine has already been approved by the governments of the UK, Canada, and Bahrain. Photo: Getty Images

While all shipping companies and airlines involved are working for the good of the public, it’s also a matter of getting ‘a slice of the pie’ as contracts for vaccine distribution mean business and revenue for those involved. We’ll have to wait and see if FedEx and UPS can indeed follow through with US distribution without help from passenger carriers.

Do you think the work of distribution needs to be spread out among more organizations? Or, for the sake of simplicity, is it best to keep it to the two major courier/shipping companies? Let us know in the comments.