Keeping With the Known Shipper Program

Do you know what to do if an unknown shipper asks one of your employees to ship a package? Most likely – yes. After all, the Transportation Security Administration’s Known Shipper Program was around before the attacks on Sept. 11,2001. But since those attacks, a courier company must go through a more stringent process to maintain its Indirect Air Carrier certification.

While most courier company owners and employees understand why the IAC certification process has become more complicated, some companies have bowed out of the program. For some delivery businesses, maintaining an IAC certification is no longer cost effective, and the process of staying up to date with new regulations is, understandably, too time consuming. But although the IAC process has become more rigorous, there are many courier companies that have remained IACs and know how to follow the TSA’s safety guidelines and pass the agency’s surprise Known Shipper inspections. 

According to the TSA, an Indirect Air Carrier is any person or entity within the United States that does not have a Federal Aviation Administration air carrier operating certificate, but indirectly engages in air transportation of property and uses the services of a passenger air carrier. Every IAC is required to adopt and comply with a security program that meets the TSA’s current requirements. IACs must make certain that any person who asks to ship a package is a Known Shipper (a shipper whom the TSA has essentially vetted.)

To help IACs determine who is a Known Shipper, the TSA created the Known Shipper Data Management System. According to the TSA, the “system provides a systematic approach to assessing risk and determining the legitimacy of shippers by allowing TSA to identify and approve the Known Shipper status for qualified shippers located in the U.S. Passenger air carriers and indirect air carriers must comply with a range of specific security requirements to qualify their clients as Known Shippers.”

If an IAC forgoes checking if a person is a Known Shipper, the company has potentially compromised the safety of the flight the package ends up on. To check if IACs are checking a person’s Known Shipper status, the TSA sometimes sends out undercover inspectors to pose as unknown shippers.

Ronald Libman is president of U.S. Messenger, Chicago, Ill. His company is a relatively new, IAC-certified provider of next-flight-out (NFO) service to the United States marketplace. Libman says his company is handling the TSA visits well. “The key thing is to follow the regulations that the TSA has set. It’s not fancy but it is the truth,” Libman said.

Recently, Libman’s company underwent a surprise, routine, undercover visit from a TSA agent. Libman says that David Kuchar, inspector of O’Hare International Airport, told him his company did a good job during the surprise test. “They are a good department to work with,” Libman said. “There really is no fooling their team. They give you some pretty easy but stringent parameters. You have to maintain certain things on your location. But the bottom line is if something seems fishy, it very well could be; it’s really a common sense situation.”

Libman says that problems with unknown shippers typically arise when an employee or courier company wants to hurry the shipping process along. People can get distracted by how much money they could potentially make on a sale, and sometimes, employees can slip up because they just feel bad for the unknown shipper. “If that’s going to be the mindset, then you’re going to do the wrong thing in the eyes of the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security, and really, in general, for the security of air traffic,” Libman said. “The good thing is that everyone is concerned about these things these days so the American public is on guard.”

Mike Gualtieri, president of ProCourier in Hartford, Conn., and his company recently went through an unplanned TSA inspection, too. “They came in [late this winter] just as a customer,” Gualtieri said.

Gualtieri and Karen Sullivan, security director at ProCourier, were immediately brought into the situation, and the unknown shipper was refused service.

When asked if it’s worth the time and cost to be an IAC, Gualtieri says it is for safety’s sake, but the entire process is more costly and time consuming now. “When our new world evolved, and things got stepped up, it’s kind of hard to philosophically disagree for inspecting. I think we all agree with that. But it’s somewhat costly.”

Years ago, courier companies could have someone come to the counter 30 minutes before flight time, and that person would have a good chance of getting a package on a flight. “The lead times have increased,” Gualtieri said.
“You can’t get anything in four hours anymore—it’s more like six to eight hours. I think at times drivers get frustrated, too, with the additional amount of paperwork. When that happens, I get through that job and bring [the drivers] in and have a conversation with them about really what the big picture is. Usually it’s just short-term frustration, and they normally get with the program as well.”

ProCourier now needs to arrive early at the Hartford, Conn., airport, and also has had to comply with 100 percent inspection. “They are opening every box, or inspecting every box packaged to every airline. It’s added to the cost,” Gualtieri said. “Sometimes it’s a little bit frustrating. We’ve had to raise our rates significantly, obviously. But I think if you’re educated, and we’ve become educated, [people] know the old days don’t apply anymore.”

Gualtieri understands why some companies have opted out of being an IAC because of time and money. Some companies don’t make enough money as an IAC and opt out of the program. “I know people who just got out immediately and just said, ‘It’s not worth it, I can make money elsewhere,’ and that’s not to say that the thought didn’t go through my head as well. But at the end of the day, you’re able to fit your position uniquely at certain times of the day, or the week, to help business.”

He said many people get frustrated with the process because people naturally want to help others out. “There’s really not much we can do if [the shipper is] not verified,” Gualtieri said. “It’s frustrating, but it’s worth working with the TSA. It’s kind of forced us all to modify our habits— that’s all. The bigger picture is the important thing.”

About the Author
Abbie Stutzer is a contributing writer and editor with Courier Magazine. Contact her at