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Wacky wacky UPS


There's a package en route to me. Yesterday morning, UPS's package tracking system showed an "arrival scan" in San Pablo, CA. For over 24 hours, there's been no further movement.

I called UPS just now, and the following dialogue ensued (loosely transcribed from memory) (note that this time, for once, I managed to be polite and nonconfrontational throughout):

Me: [explains the situation]

Her: The package is not physically in California, but it's not scheduled to be delivered until Thursday, so it's still on time.

Me: It says "arrival scan."

Her: That just means that that's the package's destination.

Me: If it's not in California, then where is it?

Her: It was in Illinois on Friday, and ground packages didn't go out on Friday or over the weekend, so it may still be in Illinois.

Me: So why does it say "arrival scan" in California?

Her: That's when it was supposed to arrive, but it hasn't arrived yet, because of the holiday weekend.

Me: So, just so I'll know for future reference, when the tracking system says "arrival scan," that doesn't actually mean that it's arrived and been scanned?

Her: No, it just means that's the destination.

Me: So "arrival scan" really just means that the plan is that it will eventually end up at that location at some point in the future?

Her: That's right.

I failed to ask her how she knows it's not in California; it sounds like she has access to some sort of extra-special secret tracking system that contains information that they don't put in the package tracking system that I can see.

If what she said was accurate--it doesn't match anything I've been told in the past, but UPS people have told me all sorts of wildly inconsistent things in the past, on all kinds of topics, so who knows--then it's a stupid, lousy way to do things. What's the use of a public-facing package tracking system that (a) doesn't show the package's actual location, and (b) uses extremely misleading terms like "arrival scan" to mean things that no normal customer would expect them to mean?

I think the moral continues to be "Jed should avoid UPS if at all possible." I've been having lousy UPS experiences on and off for over 15 years, so you'd think I would know better than to use them. (Though I know that plenty of people have good UPS experiences.) Unfortunately, I wasn't given a choice of shipping companies.

Anyway, I imagine that on Thursday or Friday we'll go through the whole rigmarole all over again, and they'll explain to me (as usually seems to happen when UPS fails to deliver something to me on time) that whatever novel way of messing things up they've happened upon this time is really my fault, just like all the other times. But it's possible they'll surprise me.

(To be fair, this doesn't hold a candle to the ridiculous customer-service conversation I had with Apple a couple weeks ago, which I keep forgetting to post but will try to get to soonish. Having said that, I should note that that one did come out okay in the end, when I called back and spoke to someone who actually knew what they were talking about.)


The agent should not be able to see any scans that you cannot see, but she can see notes that you cannot see. (For example, there could be a note explaining a weather delay or other problem.) Also, each scan listed is an actual scan, so if it says that the package was scanned in CA, then a barcode associated with that package was scanned in CA. Now, if it's like FedEx, what happens is that the package is at some point containerized en route. The container gets its own barcode, and that barcode is associated with all the barcodes of the individual packages in that container. While the container is in transit, each scan of the container's barcode is distributed to each package's history as if the individual package had been scanned. This can lead to some misinformation if a package doesn't actually get put in the container, or falls out of the container, because the scans of the container will indicate that the package is somewhere that it's not.

None of this explains why the UPS agent lied to you, but it might help explain some additional ways the scans can end up being inaccurate.

Thanks, Michael! That makes much more sense. Armed with that information, I called again, and got someone who knew what an arrival scan was; sadly, that just meant that the only thing she could tell me was that there would be further updates on or before the delivery date. Sigh.

I did let her know that the previous person I talked to gave me false information (I was polite about that, too), and she apologized, but clearly wasn't gonna do anything about it. At least this one's pretty benign, on the scale of misinformation that UPS is capable of giving out.

Hmmm...this reminds me of the last package I had shipped by DHL, which somehow managed to arrive in Fremont twice. The package ended up being delivered before I got around to phoning them up about it. Now I'm wondering what kind of explanation I'd have gotten.

I currently have not one, but two packages (from two different companies) sitting in San Pablo. One item has been there since Monday and will not arrive until Friday, and the other got there on Tuesday, but won't be delivered until Thursday. This has been driving me nuts, as I live about thirty minutes from San Pablo. So I did a yahoo search for "UPS and San Pablo and why," which brought me to this post. Glad to know I am not alone, and I appreciate the preview of what the result of a call to UPS would be.

I also have a UPS package that got an arrival scan in Chelmsford, MA on 2/6 and then another arrival scan in the same location on 2/9..... So it arrived twice in the same place 3 days apart? UPS is broken...

lol mine said "arrival scan" so i went out side hoping to find a package in the mailbox (i had been waiting 6 monthes for it :(... )i went out in the cold *freezing* for like 10 minutes looking everywhere turns out it just made it to a "checkpoint" lol... they need to make a new name for it... "arrival scan" makes it sound like its arreived at you're hawse and they scanned it lol

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