NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Congress Clears Ways for Cheap Chick Flight

November 8, 2001

Congress took a breather from terrorism last week to focus on another matter: cheap airfare for baby chicks. According to a 1924 Post Office rule, day-old chickens, ducks, geese, partridges, guinea fowl, quail and turkeys can be mailed if they aren't more than 24 hours old, are shipped in a ventilated box and mailed so they won't get stuck in a mailroom during a Sunday or national holiday. They have to arrive in 72 hours, which is as long as they can survive without food and water.

In early September, Northwest Airlines stopped the service, saying too many of the chicks didn't survive and the fares were too low to cover the special care the chicks need.

  • For just $5.65, the Postal Service would arrange transport, usually in the cargo hold of a commercial liner, of a four-pound box of chicks, then complete delivery.
  • Otherwise, airlines charge 93 cents a pound to carry animals as cargo --triple the rate they charge if the animals are classified as mail.
  • The Post Office objected when Northwest said it wanted $3.72 a box to ship the chicks instead of $1.24 -- and wanted the right to refuse any shipment that couldn't be transported in a safe and humane manner.

Last Thursday, Congress passed an appropriations bill saying the Postal Service can require any airline that ships live animals to carry day-old poultry at mail rates, but that the Postal Service can levy a surcharge to help airlines cover the cost of shipping live animals. The cost, therefore, will be somewhat higher than mail rates, but below cargo.

Source: Devon Spurgeon and Stephen Power, "Lawmakers Put Chicks' Transport Up in the Air," Wall Street Journal, November 7, 2001.

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