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Courier Flights
Insider Report: Review of Jupiter Air's Los Angeles-Singapore Run (page 4)

Researcher Byron B. Deeter agreed to review the courier operation of Jupiter Air on a recent flight to Singapore. The following is his report.

My motivation for deciding to try courier travel was simple: money. I didn't have a lot of it. My girlfriend was spending the summer working in Singapore, and although I wanted to visit her, I could not afford to pay the fares that the airlines were asking. Three months in advance the cheapest conventional flight I could find was around $1,500 round trip. When I found a courier flight on United Airlines for $550 round trip, on the dates I wanted to fly, the decision was easy. Three months later I was landing at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), about to meet my contact from the courier company and begin my trip. The arrangements at LAX were surprisingly easy.

Along with one other courier, I met the contact at our pre-determined location two hours before my scheduled take-off. At that point our contact called the main Los Angeles office on his cellular phone to let them know that we had been found, and that everything was a go. He then helped us check in, as some of those full-fare people, do at the first-class counter. Mind you, they were not about to let me fly first class, but because of their relationship with the airlines, we were able to check in that way. This enabled us to bypass the long coach-class check-in lines, and essentially walk right up to the counter.

At this point potential couriers will want to take note of three things: I was able to check in a suitcase, they did not give me my return ticket to the USA at that time, and on this leg of the trip I was unable to get frequent flyer miles. Different companies handle these matters in different ways. As for the luggage, I got lucky. Often times couriers are allowed only a single carry-on bag, as the courier company is using your checked baggage allotment. I was allowed one carry-on, and up to two checked bags. Additionally, I never touched the mailbags, nor did I have to carry a document pouch with shipping manifests. Jupiter Air's agreement with United Airlines is such that they simply have to show United that someone sitting in a seat on the plane in order for the shipment to be considered properly escorted. I didn't even need to hold on to the claim checks for the mailbags.

Essentially, with the ticket in my name, I flew as a normal passenger. I say essentially, because there were the two other exceptions I mentioned above. First, Jupiter Air gave me only a photocopy of my return ticket on United Airlines, and it had "OPEN" marked for the date. They said that the return ticket would be sent over with another courier to protect their interests. This made me slightly nervous, but made sense, as their main objective was to ensure that their freight gets shipped. This way, if I do not show up at the Singapore airport to accompany mailbags on the return trip, they can use the ticket for another courier. The photocopy of the return ticket is to appease immigration officials by showing that you do indeed intend to return. Second, the ticket had marked on it "NO MILES," which in airline-worker-lingo means "laugh at this kid when he tries to get frequent flyer mileage on top of the great deal he already has." Again, this varies with the company you travel with, and its agreement with the airline.

Frankly, I was amazed at how easy it had been! I had literally spent months in anticipation of this trip. I had booked my flight three months in advance. Then all of a sudden, I was in Singapore like every other traveler on that flight. People had paid three to four times as much, for a seat right next to mine! The ease of my flight was also increased due to the fact that the plane was far under capacity, so I was able to stretch out across four empty seats and sleep for much of the flight.

However, this account would not be truly informative if I were not to relate a negative as well. After a fabulous week-long stay in Singapore (see Stopping over in Singapore for more information on the city itself), I arrived at the airport on a Sunday morning to meet my contact, get my ticket, and fly home to California. I had called Jupiter Air's local contact number earlier in the week, and was told everything was in good shape. I was told to meet their representative at a set place, one hour and fifteen minutes before my flight was set to depart. Take note of the tight time frame - I didn't until it was too late. I arrived at the meeting point, two other couriers arrived, and then the Jupiter rep arrived.

The problem was that there were THREE of us, and TWO tickets in his hand. It was not standard procedure for couriers to duel over the tickets. The rep had simply forgotten one ticket at the office - mine. It was now just over one hour before my flight was to depart, I had no ticket, and his office was half an hour away. Even if he could have gotten there and back in time, he was just a delivery boy, and did not have the key to get in.

Although the delivery boy knew nothing, he did have contact phone numbers, and I immediately placed a call to their downtown office. I think that being genuinely angry, and the fact that I aggressively asserted myself at this point made a large difference. I would suggest doing the same if ever faced with a similar situation.

I flatly demanded that the Jupiter official get out of bed and come down the airport himself. Although I missed my scheduled flight, he was able to get me on a flight to LAX that departed only 30 minutes later, passing through a different layover city. I still do not know what the Jupiter official did or said - perhaps he paid for the ticket himself out of his own pocket just to get me thousands of miles away from him - but I was ticketed.

To Jupiter Air's credit, they admitted that they had made a mistake, and they eventually solved the problem. On the whole I would have to say that the experience was a positive one, and I look forward to flying as a courier again in the future. The mix-up at Jupiter's Singapore office added unneeded stress to my return, but it was adequately handled. As a bonus, because of the hurried conditions under which my return ticket was issued, they neglected to mark it "NO MILES," so I was able to get frequent flyer credit. Best of all, I was able to travel to a place I would not have been able to afford to visit otherwise, and I had a great time doing it.

Best of luck in your own travels! Bon Voyage!

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