12 Secrets of FedEx Delivery Drivers

Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

They carry little package scanners that look like Star Trek tricorders. They can deliver to literally any street address in the United States. And with an average of 13 million packages delivered daily—many of them containing consumer merchandise—they beat the brakes off Santa’s productivity. They’re FedEx drivers, a smart and efficient fleet of employees who represent the final step in getting your goods right to your doorstep.

With the company’s 160,000 vehicles experiencing peak volume in time for the holidays, Mental Floss asked several drivers about some of the lesser-known facts surrounding their job. Read on to find out why they’re sometimes followed, why they hide packages, and what happens when they have to pee while on the clock.

1. NOT ALL FEDEX DRIVERS ACTUALLY WORK FOR FEDEX.


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Surprised? So were we. According to Ian, a former driver in Ohio, FedEx Express and FedEx Ground are actually two separate entities. “Most of the routes for Ground are contracted out to save money,” he says. “People can purchase the routes [from FedEx] and then hire their own drivers.” While that shouldn’t affect the consumer all that much, Ian says that he sometimes encountered people who were upset that, as an Express employee, he couldn’t pick up Ground packages. Ground drivers also tend to handle the larger, heavier items that aren’t being sent overnight. “Express can be more business and paperwork,” he says.

Another key difference: FedEx Express drivers often get sleek Mercedes Sprinter vans, while Ground has to settle for whatever their contractor wants them to use. Ian drove for both, but when he was a Ground driver, “I didn’t have any heat or air conditioning. In winter, it was like driving a giant freezer.”

2. THEY’RE NOT ALLOWED TO HAVE CELL PHONES IN THE TRUCK.

Although Express trucks are fancy, they’re not loaded with GPS or other high-tech distractions. According to Tony, an Express driver based in Georgia, the company frowns on having electronic devices of any kind in the cab. “None of the trucks even have radios,” he says. “You’re supposed to leave your phone in the back with the packages.” Headphones and earbuds are also prohibited, although Tony says some drivers use a wireless Bluetooth speaker up front to stream music from their phone in the back. For directions, drivers use map books—but most know their route well enough to not need the help.

3. THEY CAN EARN BONUSES FOR NOT SMASHING YOUR STUFF.

A FedEx driver carries a package
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Despite the occasional security camera footage of FedEx and UPS drivers tossing packages over fences or otherwise trying their best to use boxes as footballs, the reality is that drivers have no desire to mishandle your goods—just the opposite. "If a driver does throw packages [or] break stuff he'll be cut very quickly,” says James, a Ground driver from Washington. “My contractor has a bonus every month. It’s like $50 to $100 for doing good. It’s an equation [based] on how many mis-deliveries and late pickups I have. If I come clean with nothing wrong for the month, I get the full bonus.”

4. THEY CAN TELL WHEN YOU’RE SHIPPING SOMETHING VALUABLE.

People tend to try and cloak more valuable shipments by using a little misdirection: Ian says he’s seen a number of packages sent along in diaper boxes to throw people off the value of their contents. “They can weigh something like 80 pounds, or as little as five ounces, but it's never actual diapers,” he says. He can also tell if people are shipping ammo—it rattles—or blood, but the latter is a bit of a cheat: Biohazards are clearly marked (or should be). "And no one wants to spill them."

5. THEY MAY NOT LEAVE A PACKAGE BEHIND IF THE NEIGHBORHOOD SEEMS SKETCHY.

A FedEx driver stacks packages
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

For packages where the sender doesn’t require a signature, FedEx employees are left to use their own discretion on whether to leave a package unattended or reserve delivery for another day. If the address or neighborhood seems run down or otherwise at a higher risk of theft, they may opt for the latter. If not, they’ll do their best to make the delivery discreet. “I go out of my way to keep packages secure and out of sight from the public,” James says. “For instance, many houses have pillars, so I try to conceal the package behind them so it’s hard to see from the street.”

6. THEY WISH YOU’D PUT UP A HOUSE NUMBER.

One of the top reasons your package might be delayed? Because the driver doesn’t know which house is yours. “People are bad about not putting numbers on their house,” Tony says. “I’ll wind up driving up and down the road, trying to figure out which house I need or which entrance to use.”

7. THEY CAN USUALLY TELL IF YOU’RE TRYING TO SHIP DRUGS.

A drug dealer counts his profits from mailing drugs via FedEx
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While FedEx sorting facilities get visits from DEA agents and their drug-sniffing canines, Ian says that drivers can often tell when someone is trying to make them inadvertent drug couriers. “People will wrap packages of weed in tons of duct tape or use some kind of fragrance to mask the smell,” he says. “It’s all a giveaway.” Sometimes, agents will let the drivers deliver the package so recipients can get delivered to a jail cell.

8. THE HOLIDAY SEASON MEANS A LOT OF PACKAGE FRAUD.

Package volume obviously goes up during the holidays, but Tony says that there’s also an increase in items bought using someone’s stolen identity. “People will order something, maybe thousands of dollars’ worth of leather jackets, and then say they’ll pick it up at the sorting facility,” he says. “That way, they can avoid having it delivered to the address on file with the [stolen] card.” But there’s a wrinkle: FedEx is often so efficient during this time of the year that items they expect to arrive in three days might get there in two. “Then you get people calling up asking who ordered all these jackets.”

9. DELIVERY NOT ON TIME? BLAME YOUR DOG.

A dog looks up at a photographer
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Dogs and delivery people have a rich, occasionally bloody history. If you have a time-sensitive delivery coming, you may want to rethink letting your canine roam the front yard. “Some dog owners don’t seem to understand that if your dog is roaming loose I won’t try and get into your property,” James says. “I know some drivers who know specific dogs and refuse to leave their trucks if the dog is there. If the dog walks up to me I'll pet him and leave the package. But if he gets hostile ... I'll try again the next day.”

10. THEY SOMETIMES GET FOLLOWED.

When driving, Ian would sometimes notice a tail behind him. That’s because some thieves have been known to follow delivery drivers and scoop up packages as they’re being dropped off. “We were taught to keep an eye out for familiar vehicles following us,” he says. “They knew people weren’t at home during the day, would wait until we were around the corner, and then pick up the package.” If you’re ordering something expensive like a TV, this is a good reason to request a signature. “It blows my mind how many people wouldn’t bother paying the extra $2.50 to make the signature required.”

11. THEY WISH YOU'D STOP RE-USING BOXES.

A FedEx delivery box is pictured
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When Tony sees packages arrive from freight trucks looking like they’ve been beaten with baseball bats, chances are it’s due in part because the shipper has re-used a box too often. The weakened cardboard is giving out, forcing employees to label it damaged upon arrival and hope nothing is broken. “We never want to deliver something broken,” he says. “Sometimes we’ll repackage it.”

12. WHEN THEY GOTTA GO, THEY GOTTA GO.

Drivers don’t usually have set shifts. Instead, their day ends when all packages have been delivered, so being efficient with their time is important. When it comes to needing the bathroom, some drivers opt for a detour—others don’t. “I'll take the five minutes and go to a gas station to [pee],” James says. “If I need to go number two I'll go in an apartment building that I know. But I've [gone riding] with drivers who have a big jug in their truck, that they [pee] in. Its gross but understandable.”

13 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Dog Show Handlers

Dog handler Kellie Fitzgerald poses with her English Springer Spaniel 'James' after winning Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club's Dog Show in 2007
Dog handler Kellie Fitzgerald poses with her English Springer Spaniel 'James' after winning Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club's Dog Show in 2007
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Every year, roughly 3000 dogs from around the country flock to Madison Square Garden to strut their stuff at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. In all, some 190 breeds can enter the ring, each competing to look and act exactly as required for their breed’s ideal standard. But it takes a lot of hard work from dedicated handlers to produce a dog that can compete with the best of them. “What you see at Westminster, that’s the very final touch,” says Karen Mammano, who handles dogs with her husband Sam. “That’s the final product of everything we do.” We talked to a few handlers who have been at Westminster about what goes into training a dog with a shot at Best In Show.

1. The dogs have treadmills.

Among the qualities the judges take into consideration is the dog’s trotting pace. Many handlers put their pups on doggy treadmills set at a certain speed to get them used to keeping a particular trot. “It teaches them foot timing and the right kind of gait we want them to have,” Mammano says.

Some doggy treadmills cost more than $1000. But, according to dog handler Sharon Rives, that’s just part of these athletes’ training routine. “They’re developing their muscles just like any athlete,” she says, “any runner or football player or any athlete that has to train muscles to do something over and over again.”

2. Soup cans might be a dog handler’s best friend.

Judges also look closely at a dog’s stance—how it holds itself while standing still. “It’s kind of their supermodel stance,” says Rives. Every breed has an ideal stance, but teaching a dog to maintain that position while a judge pokes and prods often takes some creative training techniques. According to Rives, when her parents trained dogs in the 1980s, they used to have the dogs stand on four soup cans placed the correct distance apart.

“Everybody has their own way of doing it,” she says. “Now I have what we call stacking blocks, sort of a wooden device with four feet on it for the dogs to stand on and it’s adjustable. I start when they’re puppies with that and they stand on it for a couple minutes and as they get older they spend more time on it, maybe 15 or 20 minutes a day, to help train their muscles and body to remember to stand in that correct position.”

3. The dogs have ridiculously long names.

'Flynn' the Bichon Frise, with handler Bill McFadden, poses after winning 'Best in Show' at the Westminster Kennel Club 142nd Annual Dog Show in 2018
'Flynn' the Bichon Frise, with handler Bill McFadden, poses after winning 'Best in Show' at the Westminster Kennel Club 142nd Annual Dog Show in 2018
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Professional pups have very fancy monikers that reflect their pedigree. For example, Rives’s Australian Shepherd answers to “Wiggle” but her full name is “Veritas Sexy and I Know It.” “Typically the prefix of the name is the kennel the dog is from,” she explains. “Veritas is my kennel name, so whenever I breed a dog, every dog has the word veritas in their name.” As for the rest of Wiggle’s full name, Rives says the litter theme was Top 40 Songs, so every puppy had a different song title in its name.

4. Handler cars must be inspected.

According to Mammano, the American Kennel Club inspects handlers’ vehicles before they can be listed as a "registered handler." What are they looking for? A car that could keep a dog alive in the most dire of conditions. “We have a generator, air conditioning, heat, a 30-gallon water tank,” she says. “We have to have fire extinguishers that haven’t expired and a heat monitor in the vehicle so if the air conditioning goes out the monitor knows. We’re pretty much self-contained.”

5. Dog shows aren’t natural.

Handlers are the first to admit that dogs weren’t made to trot around a ring. “Golden retrievers were never meant to run in circles in a show ring,” Mammano says. “They were meant to be out hunting and doing that job and other breeds were meant to be out pulling sleds. So I try and make it as fun for them as possible.”

6. There’s one quick way to get disqualified.

“If a dog bites a judge or a handler or another dog, that’s pretty much it for the rest of its career,” Rives says. “Aggression is not ever acceptable.”

7. You’re not a real handler until …

... you trip and fall in the ring. “I think we’ve all had a moment where we’ve fallen,” Rives says. “That’s always embarrassing. But I think I like to say that’s sort of like the dog show hazing. You haven’t been fully initiated into dog showing until you’ve completely wiped out in the ring.”

She also shares a hilarious story of one of her earliest shows, when she was just 16 years old. “Normally I use hot dogs or string cheese as bait, something I could put in my mouth, and I happened to only have liver that day, which I’m not gonna put in my mouth. I was wearing a suit that didn’t have pockets, but I had panty hose on so I thought I’ll just real slyly stick this in the waistband of my pantyhose under the flap of my jacket and when I need some bait I’ll just break off a little piece. Well, the liver made its way down the waistband of panty hose to my ankle and dog starts licking it. The judge is going, ‘Ma’am, the dog is licking your leg.’ I was just mortified.”

8. Handlers’ wardrobe choices are strategic.

When deciding what to wear for the big day, handlers have to make sure they’re not overshadowing the dog with fancy flair. “You want to dress to compliment the dog’s colors,” Rives says. “If you’re showing a black dog you don’t want to wear a black skirt because then you’re obscuring the dog.”

The more prestigious the show, the better the handlers dress. “We always joke that last week was fashion week for us because we were all trying to get suits for Westminster,” says Mammano.

And for the bigger shows, they invest in nice footwear, not only because they’re on their feet all day, but because their feet and ankles are going to be on TV. Rives is wearing the shoes she wore to her wedding. “They’re little silver ballet flats that have sparkly crystals on the toes,” she says.

9. It’s hard on the body.

Co-owner and handler David Fitzpatrick holds Pekingese Malachy after winning Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 2012
Co-owner and handler David Fitzpatrick holds Pekingese Malachy after winning Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 2012
Michael Nagle/Getty Images

“A lot of my peers have had their knees and hips replaced,” says David Fitzpatrick, a professional handler who works with the Pekingese breed. “You get tired just from being at the show.” And because dogs are always making left-hand turns in the ring, the handler’s left leg tends to take a beating.

10. They have lucky leashes, toys, and rubber bands.

Dog show people are quite superstitious. Fitzpatrick, for example, has a lucky leash. “I have one I’ve been using probably since 2004 because I know many dogs have had great success with it.”

Mammano won’t re-use a leash once it’s been used on a winning dog, opting instead to retire it. And she always wears three rubber bands around her arm to hold her number.

Also, Fitzpatrick says some owners carry around special toys for dogs, similar to the “busy bee” in Best In Show. “Most of these dogs do have a favorite thing and when you go into the ring and you can’t find that toy you do kinda go crazy like ‘Where is the busy bee?!’”

11. The dogs eat whatever they want.

Well, in the ring at least. “I had one dog way back in the early 2000s and all he wanted was filet mignon,” says Fitzpatrick. “He wouldn’t take chicken or liver, but the filet he would eat. So they get whatever they like. Or I had a Pomeranian that only liked potato chips. I had another dog who liked apples.”

12. Chalk and dryer sheets keep the dogs looking sharp.

Show dogs are some of the most pampered, well-groomed dogs in the world, but it takes a lot of work. “Every breed is going to have their own quirky thing they do to make the coat look a certain way,” Rives says. “One handler told me you should put dryer sheets on a wavy coat. Others say you should wash your dog’s coat in Dawn dish soap if you want it to be straight.”

Chalk is often used to make a dog’s coat look whiter, Fitzpatrick says. “Whatever it is to make the dog look better for the show, there’s probably a product out there for it.”

But according to Rives, grooming is a taboo topic among handlers because “people don’t want to share their secrets, and because there are things that are not allowed.” Indeed, too much grooming is considered cheating, so owners keep their tips and tricks to themselves. And if a handler sees another handler crossing the line, they’ll snitch. “It’s a self-regulating sport,” Rives says. “If you see somebody doing something they shouldn’t be, you’d report it.”

13. Best in show doesn’t come with a cash prize.

“You don’t win any money,” says Fitzpatrick, who won Best in Show at Westminster in 2012 with his Pekingese Malachy. “You get trophies and a lot of swag. We came home with bags of loot, but not one penny. It’s not about the money. It’s about competing at this historic event.”

This list first ran in 2016.

8 Secrets of Air Traffic Controllers

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iStock

As the United States enters into the second month of a government shutdown that began on December 22, 2018, federal employee shortages are becoming an increasing problem. On the morning of January 25, 2019, the FAA announced that due to air traffic control staffing shortages along the east coast, they were halting flights into New York City's LaGuardia Airport. It's a potent reminder that while pilots and flight attendants are key to making air travel safe, air traffic controllers—though less-visible—are just as essential in getting you from Point A to Point B.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employs more than 14,000 of them to choreograph the flow of airplanes on the ground and in the sky, whether that means using radar and other tools to direct aircraft at take off, communicating with pilots about flight paths and weather, or helping pilots land their planes safely. Take a look at these secrets of air traffic controllers to learn about their unique lingo, high degree of job stress, and occasional UFO sighting.

1. Many of them don't work at airports.

When you imagine an air traffic controller, you probably envision someone working in a tall glass tower at an airport. However, many controllers toil at either a Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility or at a route center, which may be located far away from an airport.

According to air traffic controller Chris Solomon, who controls planes for the military, controllers in each of the three types of facilities have different responsibilities. “The typical tower controllers get the planes from the gate to the runway and then airborne to within five or so miles of an airport. The aircraft then becomes under the control of the approach controllers [TRACON],” he told the website Art of Manliness.

These TRACON controllers usually control the plane during its ascent and descent from the airport. When aircraft reach an altitude above 18,000 feet, the route center controller takes over, using radar to guide aircraft at cruising altitudes until the plane begins its descent. Then the approach controller takes the reins, followed by a tower controller who guides the plane’s landing.

2. Age is a major factor.

Some air traffic controllers begin their careers in the military, while others apply to the FAA’s Air Traffic Control Academy. But no matter how they enter the profession, they must have good vision, a sharp mind, and the ability to think quickly and clearly under pressure. The FAA requires that applicants be 30 years old or younger when they apply to the job, and controllers must retire at age 56, before most of them experience any age-related mental decline.

3. They have their own lingo.

Inside an air traffic control room

Pilots and air traffic controllers around the world must speak English to communicate (it's required by the International Civil Aviation Organization), but they also have their own flight-related language. This phonetic alphabetic and numerical system, which replaces letters (A to Z) and numbers (zero to nine) with code words, minimizes confusion and misunderstandings between air traffic controllers and pilots.

For example, controllers say “bravo” instead of the letter “B,” “Charlie” instead of the letter “C,” and “niner” instead of the number “nine.” (Theories explaining the origin of the code word “niner” differ, but aircraft enthusiasts speculate that the extra syllable differentiates it from the German word for “no” or distinguishes it from the pronunciation of the number “five.”) Air traffic controllers also have their own slang and, for instance, use the phrase “souls on board” to refer to the number of people on a plane.

The phonetic system is spelled out in detail in the FAA Order 7110.65 manual [PDF], along with other key code words, phrases, and procedures. Controllers call the manual their "bible," study it during training, and review it regularly to keep apprised of any updates and additions.

4. Pilots with heavy accents can frustrate them.

Although English is the official language of aviation, not all pilots speak it well. Air traffic controller Brandon Miller, who works for Potomac Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) in northern Virginia, tells Mental Floss that it can be difficult to communicate with foreign pilots. “However, we are in the business of communication,” he says, explaining that learning to solve potential communication issues is part of their training. When talking to a pilot who has a heavy accent, controllers may speak more slowly, enunciate words more dramatically, and try to avoid changing routes as much as possible.

Stephen, an air traffic controller with the FAA, echoes Miller’s point. “We mainly just bitch amongst ourselves, say things very slowly, and do the best we can” when dealing with pilots who have heavy accents, he wrote on Reddit.

5. They alternate between stress and boredom.

An airplane and an air control tower

Because they’re responsible for thousands of lives 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, most air traffic controllers experience a high level of job-related stress. “We often miss birthdays, we work on holidays and weekends, and often operate on alternative sleep cycles,” Miller explains. Staying focused is essential, especially during times of busy traffic and bad weather, so most air traffic controllers take a break every hour or two, depending on the rules at their facility.

According to Miller, the diversity of tasks in his work day keeps his job challenging. At any given time, he may be directing Air Force One or other VIPs (from our country or a foreign one), sequencing commercial passenger jets into a variety of airports in the Washington, D.C. area, assisting police or paramedic helicopters, expediting military fighters and military transport planes, or looking for suspicious aircraft in the Washington, D.C. Special Flight Rules Area.

On the other hand, graveyard shifts and periods with less traffic can be tedious and dull. “Hours and hours of boredom combined with moments of sheer terror, as we like to say,” Stephen told Reddit. “But if you like the challenge and want to be where the action is, it's a great job!”

6. They're probably overworked.

In a 2011 article for The Daily Beast, Bob Richards, who worked as an air traffic controller at Chicago O’Hare International Airport for more than two decades, described his job as “thrilling, fulfilling, and utterly exhausting.” Richards noted that four of his coworkers died of sudden cardiac death, two died of pancreatic cancer, and many others suffered from stress-related gastrointestinal illnesses. In his early 40s, Richards himself suffered from atrial fibrillation, which eventually progressed into congestive heart failure.

A secret study conducted by NASA in 2011 found that almost one-fifth of controllers made significant errors, partly due to chronic fatigue caused by their lack of sleep and busy shift schedules. To combat fatigue and address controllers who were allegedly asleep on the job, the FAA issued a series of new rules that increase the mandatory time between controllers’ shifts.

7. UFO sightings definitely happen.

A screen showing radar

During the course of their careers, most air traffic controllers have personally spotted (or have a coworker who has spotted) some sort of unidentified flying object. UFO sightings are more common at night, when air traffic controllers may see an unexplained blinking light that doesn’t appear to be coming from an aircraft. But strange sightings aren't necessarily alien life forms—radar is so sensitive that it may pick up items such as clouds, a flock of birds, or even a large truck on the ground.

8. RObots won't be replacing them.

Commercial aircraft landing

Although air traffic controllers rely on radar and other technology to do their jobs, they’re not in danger of technology replacing them any time soon. With so many lives at stake, air traffic control will likely always require humans to ensure that automated systems function properly and technology doesn’t malfunction. And controllers enjoy the sense of satisfaction that comes with using their knowledge and skills to help passengers get from point A to point B safely. “There is a great amount of pride that my coworkers and I take knowing that safety of air traffic control is the last thing on passengers' minds when they get buckled in the airplane,” Miller says.

An earlier version of this story ran in 2017.

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