When you've been getting and sending mail through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) your entire life, it's hard to imagine there's much you don't know about the postal system. But those who have actually worked for the USPS get an inside look at what goes on behind-the-scenes that the average consumer never will. As it turns out, there's quite a lot you wouldn't necessarily realize unless you've seen or experienced it firsthand. To help you get more in-the-know, we've gathered some of the secrets former Postal Service workers have revealed over time. Read on to find out what's really going on with your packages—and so much more.
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Carriers don't always know why your package is late.
It can definitely be upsetting to not receive a package you were expecting, but you're likely putting your frustrations on to the wrong person. One former USPS driver who wished to stay anonymous tells Best Life that many customers would give him an attitude if their package didn't arrive on the day they thought it was going to. "They would sometimes talk to us as if we were purposely holding their package and giving it to them later than expected on purpose," he says.
According to the driver, the truth is that postal carriers often don't know why your package is late either. "There are things out of our control, that USPS drivers aren't even told about, that causes customers' packages to come later than it's supposed to," he explains. "If they want to ask why it was late, that's fine, but they shouldn't expect an answer or give the driver attitude because we simply don't always know why their package is late."
But that "attempted delivery" indicator is not always accurate.
There are times when your package's tracking information isn't matching your experience—and in some cases, postal workers might be responsible. In 2021, a Reddit user under the name of AntCif invited questions about the USPS, since they had been a mail carrier for 10 months. When asked why some customers have had their packages marked as "attempted delivery" even though there were no delivery attempts made, AntCif revealed that this is sometimes done on purpose.
According to the former carrier, some post offices will end up getting so many packages at once—particularly during the winter holiday season—that they don't have "enough workers to deliver" them all on their intended days. "So if there are a couple packages in the office that are not going to be delivered until the next day, the supervisors will scan them attempted just because it has to be scanned something," AntCif wrote. "Each package has to be accounted for, so to stop the clock, supervisors will scan it attempted even though it was not attempted."
Workers won't always wait for you to fix your delivery mistakes.
If you've ever made a mistake when trying to mail something, you're hardly alone. But you might not be able to fix your error if you don't act quickly. Last year, a Quora user started a thread to ask for advice after accidentally ordering a package to a non-existent address. "It has been marked as delivered. Where is it?" they asked.
In a response, Thomas LeDoux, a former mail handler, clerk, carrier, and manager for the Postal Service, said the package will likely be "held for a few days" at whatever post office typically delivers mail in the area it was intended to be delivered in. "But they are not compelled to hold it," he warned. "Time is of the essence and you would want to contact them immediately."
According to LeDoux, post offices can send packages like this back as "undeliverable mail/return to sender" at any time. "But most stations usually hang on to those packages until the very last dispatch of mail for the week and in some cases, even longer," he explained. "Once the station does send it back, there's nothing you can do but contact the sender and correct the address because the letter or package is going back to them."
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You can tell how new your carrier is based on what they're wearing.
If you notice a Postal Service carrier is not wearing the iconic blue uniform, it's likely not because they're flouting the rules. As retired USPS employee Dave Culbreath explained on a Quora forum, this is usually the sign of a new carrier. "They are usually given a cap (some of the unions provide them), an ID badge, a satchel, and sent on the streets, pending receipt of their uniform allowances," he wrote.
According to the USPS, new employees are not required to wear uniforms unless uniforms have been provided to them during the first 90 days of their employment. After this probationary period, they can become eligible "for the full uniform allowance."
If you're always getting a new carrier, that could be a bad sign.
You might want to start paying attention to who's delivering your mail. According to AntCif, new carriers are assigned to a different route every single day. But seasoned mail carriers usually stick to one route—unless there's a problem.
"When you are a regular, you do the [same] route five days a week until you retire, quit, or switch routes," AntCif said, noting that if you feel like your mail carrier is always changing, "it could be your house is on a difficult route that no one wants to stay on long term."
Animal attacks are a real concern for carriers.
The USPS holds a National Dog Bite Awareness Week every year in June to call attention to the "public health issue" of animal attacks on mail carriers. Last year, someone tweeted out the agency's National Dog Bite Awareness Week flyer, adding that they thought it was a joke. "I always thought this was a bit. A comedy trope," the June 9 tweet said. "I didn't realize it was a serious issue."
Yes, it's a real concern for workers. Kevin Halloran, a former summer worker for the USPS, revealed his own experience with animal attacks while on the job in a reply to the original tweet. "I can tell you it's for real! One dog bit me, right after the owner (who wasn't looking) told me 'he doesn't bite,'" Halloran wrote.
According to the USPS, more than 5,400 postal employees were attacked by dogs in 2021 alone. "Last year, many attacks reported by letter carriers came from dogs whose owners regularly stated, 'My dog won't bite,'" the agency said in a 2022 press release. "Dog bites are entirely preventable. One bite is one too many."
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You can stop a carrier on your route to get your mail.
If a carrier is already delivering mail on your route, you don't have to wait for them to get to your house. As a former city carrier assistant (CCA) for the USPS explained on Reddit, a mail carrier on your street "can give you your mail if you have proper ID to show them." But doing so won't always leave you in their good graces, so you might want to utilize this sparingly and only when absolutely necessary.
"It's a lot easier for them if you just leave them to deliver at their own pace, because their route is sorted in delivery order," the former carrier wrote. "So to get your mail they'll have to sort through a bunch of other stuff and that takes unnecessary time out of their day."
You might not realize all the ways you can avoid long lines at the post office.
No one wants to find a long line at their local post office, but with the USPS experiencing ongoing staffing struggles, it's likelier than ever. That doesn't mean you have to let yourself get stuck in it, however. Kathryn Swart, a recently retired USPS worker who now works full-time at her hobby farm Kritterhill, shared a few secrets with Best Life to help you avoid long lines at the post office.
According to Swart, one service people should take more advantage of is scheduling carrier pickups. She says that through the agency's website, you can schedule pickups for up to one year. But certain limitations—rural routes, P.O. boxes, or missing mailboxes—will make it "almost impossible to get a carrier pickup," she notes. You can also avoid long lines by "purchasing your postage through postage vendors or using tools on USPS.com," Swart recommends.