Santa Claus and United Parcel Service (UPS) are unusually busy during the winter holiday season.
Let’s take a look.
Comparing Santa Claus and UPS
Estimates for Santa’s visits, mileage, and other Christmas Eve details vary considerably among the “experts.” Knowing my margin of error could be massive, I selected the following numbers:
- Stops: Aged 0-14 years old, the number of children in the world is in the vicinity of 2 billion. However, Santa will not visit all of these young people. It depends on their religion and who has been good. That brings the total down to somewhere between 380 million and 160 million (depending on your source). Also debatable, we could be talking about 91 million homes.
- The Sleigh: The sleigh is rather heavy. If we just assume that each present weighs 2 pounds (a 400-piece Lego set weighs approximately 2.2 pounds.), we get 321,300 pounds. And then we have to add Santa.
- Speed: To make all of his stops, Santa’s sleigh has to move at 650 miles a second. (The typical reindeer can run, at most, 15 miles an hour.) Moving so fast, Santa’s sleigh meets such huge air resistance that, at the worst, he could burst into flame. At best, he is creating countless sonic booms.
- Santa: And finally, perhaps minor, Santa consumes the snacks left for him at each home. Adding up to 40,000 metric tons (88 million pounds) of mince pies and 130 million liters of milk (33.3 million gallons), he can maintain his weight by walking an extra 1.3 billion miles.
- Time: Assuming the sleigh moves from east to west (and including time zones in our calculations), Santa completes his deliveries in 31 hours.
A reporter with the Bristol Herald Courier (Bristol, Virginia) told about the day he spent with a UPS driver making pre-holiday deliveries.
- While the driver arrived at the distribution center at 9 a.m. for perhaps a 12-hour day and 200 stops, the center had been sorting the packages since 4 a.m. Their stops will have included a police station, dozens of homes, a church, and a lighting supply business.
- Knowing that next-day-air, with a 10:30 deadline, had to come first, the driver picked up his morning deliveries. Then, in a second and third loop, he might return to the neighborhood. Later in the day, he loaded his afternoon deliveries.
- Sometimes drivers have helpers that accompany them. With two people, the helper can do the delivery while the driver prepares for the next stop.
- UPS software called ORION determines the most efficient routes. One basic rule is not to make the left turns that waste huge time. The driver also carries a handheld scanner called DIAD. In that way, the company knows how long he spends at each stop and how to direct his movements.
- Drivers are instructed only to carry packages above the waist. When exiting a truck, they have to put the package down. Needless to say, conversations should be brief.
Our Bottom Line: Transportation Infrastructure
All deliveries, whether from Amazon, UPS or the US Postal Service depend on the U.S. transportation infrastructure. At first composed of rough roads and waterways when Ben Franklin ran the USPS, it gradually acquired canals and then railroads. We thought that air transit provided the last links.
But now we have drones…
And Santa’s flying sleigh.
My sources and more: For a clever analysis of Santa’s deliveries, this BBC More or Less podcast was interesting as was this MIT estimate of Santa’s deliveries and The Daily Mail. Then, for UPS, the Bristol Herald Courier and Mental Floss (2016) had some facts.
Please note that this is the one time that, for Santa, I did not confirm the accuracy of my numbers. Also, the UPS facts are from 2019.