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Send them my love: Air cargo and Valentine’s Day

valentines flowers transported by air cargo qatar airways

Valentine’s Day is a major date in the calendar for the air cargo industry as flowers are transported all over the world in the name of love.

Here are three stories that highlight the logistical effort required to make sure Valentine’s Day is a success – from Qatar Airways Cargo, Miami International Airport, and American Airlines Cargo.

Say it with flowers

Qatar Airways Cargo has transported more than 4,000 tonnes of flowers around the world over a two-week period in the run up to Valentine’s Day.

Exported from two main areas, Latin America (Ecuador and Colombia) and Africa (Uganda and Kenya), the flowers have travelled to five major international destinations: the US, Amsterdam (for distribution across Europe), Australia, the Middle East and Japan.

To satisfy the demand, Qatar Airways Cargo has intensified the frequency of its flights to increase capacity. This translates into 10 additional Boeing 777 freighter flights from Nairobi to Liege and 10 additional flights from Quito to Amsterdam and Miami, on top of its regular cargo and passenger flights. In addition, the carrier said it was also using road transport services from European airports to Amsterdam where logistics are set up for major consumer countries.

Qatar Airways Cargo said the “fragile cargo” required a “great deal of planning and preparation” in order to be handled with utmost care and delivered on time. The company has been involved in the transportation of flowers from Nairobi for over 10 years and will be the largest cargo operator there by Valentine’s Day 2023.

The carrier has implemented an elaborate temperature-controlled forwarding system to guarantee that flowers arrive fresh at their final destination. “Because the Valentine’s Day period necessitates considerable coordination to arrange charters with the authorities and to manage the extra volumes and flights, close and constant contact with customers to ensure proper planning of shipments on the respective flight days is also essential,” Qatar Airways Cargo said.

Guillaume Halleux, chief officer cargo at Qatar Airways Cargo, commented: “In a constantly evolving market, Qatar Airways Cargo has always been able to improve its offering to meet new needs. The launch of The Next Generation, which is accompanied by a new vision of business, is proof of this. Today, in the very demanding period of Valentine’s Day, we are proud to put our expertise and efficiency at the service of our customers.”

A billion reasons to celebrate

Miami International Airport has more flower imports than any other airport in the US, and has release some stats in celebration of Valentine’s Day 2023. These are:

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspects more than one billion cut flowers for insects, pests, and diseases every Valentine’s Day season from 1 January to 15 February before they enter the US, and 89 per cent of those imported flowers come through Miami International. The airport said this made it “America’s flower imports gateway”.
  • In 2022, CBP inspected 1.23 billion cut flowers during the peak season, and this year was projected to be just as busy.
  • Miami International annually receives over 327,881 tons of flower imports valued at US$1.5 billion, largely because of the Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day peak seasons.
  • Consumers are expected to spend $25.9 billion on Valentine’s Day this year, up from $23.9 billion in 2022 and one of the highest spending years on record, according to the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

A blooming history

American Airlines Cargo has transported hundreds of tonnes of fresh flowers this Valentine’s season, marking the first of several peaks the carrier said it would see throughout the year.

The company said it was “prepared year-round for this vertical market and consistent business”.

For more than 30 years, American Airlines Cargo teams in the Americas and Europe have consistently transported a range of fresh flowers, including roses, tulips, carnations, lilies, peonies, and baby’s breath, to help celebrate a variety of special days.

Valentine’s Day is the first holiday each year where the carrier sees flower demand increase, but there are several other celebrations, including Emperor’s Birthday in Japan, Easter, Mother’s Day in the US and Europe, All Saints Day, US Thanksgiving and Christmas, where volumes peak in multiple locations across American’s cargo network.

This year out of Europe, American will fly 50 per cent more flowers than in 2022, or more than 417 tonnes, for the Valentine’s Day peak. Using its trucking network and widebody aircraft, the airline is transporting Dutch tulips and roses to the US and beyond by way of London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle airports.

“It’s always exciting to see flowers move across our network this time of year,” said American Airlines Cargo’s sales director for EMEA & APAC Emma Oliver. “Our teams are passionate about the careful handling of these shipments, knowing we play an important role for our customers and ultimately the people around the world who will celebrate Valentine’s Day with flowers we carry.”

American Airlines Cargo noted that roses and carnations had “always been a strong export from Ecuador and Colombia, with rich history dating for more than three decades”. Throughout the year, these flowers travel by way of the carrier’s Miami International Airport hub before continuing domestically or on American’s transatlantic network to European destinations. More than 70 per cent of the fresh flowers that American carries from Ecuador and Colombia are roses, and for Valentine’s Day, that number increases to 90 per cent.

“Flowers are a precious cargo. They need to arrive in perfect condition to delight our customers, and our dedicated teams recognise the importance of care, packaging, and handling to ensure they look as beautiful when they arrive at a destination as when they left the farm,” said American Airlines Cargo’s sales director – Florida, Caribbean and Latin America Lorena Sandoval.

While some of the flowers are year-round, like roses, other flowers, such as tulips, daffodils and poinsettias are highly seasonal-specific, the company said. Spring months see significant volumes of tulips and daffodils out of Europe to the US and Asia, while the end-of-year Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays come with a high demand for poinsettias out of Mexico and Chile.

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