How Atlas Air Transported Hundreds of Thousands of Flowers This Valentine’s Day

The flowers that comprise the bouquet you give or receive this Valentine’s Day will appear out of thin air. Specifically, they will likely have been flown in from Colombia and Ecuador—probably on an Atlas Air Boeing 747 aircraft.

Each year, Atlas ships over five million kilograms of flowers from these two countries to Miami. Roses, hydrangeas, carnation, and others make the annual trip from farms to consumers.

“On our 747s, we can carry approximately 100,000 kilograms of flowers,” Frank Diaz, Director of Sales and Marketing at Atlas Air, said. “During this Valentine’s peak season, we will have at least 50 flights dedicated solely to transporting flowers.”

Planning for the peak

Atlas Flower Peak Season Infographic

Well before February 14, Atlas representatives hold discussions with vendors and managers to begin planning shipments to ensure that everything runs smoothly and safely. They work with vendors to ascertain staffing resources and needs, warehouse managers to allocate sufficient space for the shipments, and much more.

“We notify all the parties associated with the operation as to what we expect for the upcoming season,” said Arian Castellanos, Atlas’s Regional Manager of South America. “We make sure everyone is aligned and ready.”

Lucas Vargas, Assistant Manager of Station Operations and Ground Operations, said it’s especially crucial to coordinate how many trucks will be received and thus how big the overall operation will be. “We transfer that information to our vendors to make sure they have enough personnel to break down the pallets, segregate the flowers as necessary and ultimately deliver the cargo.”

Throughout the process, communication is critical among Atlas team members to proactively manage potential challenges before they arise.

“With careful planning, we effectively manage the process and ensure a smooth operation,” said Lucas.

Atlas’s decade of experience in floral transportation helps for a smooth trip. “We started flying into Ecuador in 2012 and Colombia in 2016,” said Luis Fernando Del Valle, Regional Director of Sales Marketing at Atlas Air “There’s quite a lot that needs to be managed. We basically double, and some days triple, our normal capacity offering into Ecuador and Colombia during the peak season. With the right planning, we are able to pull this off, despite space constraints in Miami.”

Keeping flowers fresh

Following initial planning, Atlas team members manage the logistics required to keep the flowers fresh on their journeys.

Flowers come directly to the airport from farms by way of refrigerated trucks. Team members offload flowers into a large vacuum-like machine that takes out moisture to keep them cool and fresh. This pre-cooling process is proceeded by team members loading the cargo into coolers, where they are kept for the remainder of the flight and securely stored at temperatures between two to eight degrees Celsius.

Patricio Sanchez, Regional Director of Sales Marketing at Atlas Air, calls this the “cool chain process” in which everyone and everything has a role, from the trucking service to the warehouses to the aircrafts and flight crews themselves. Upon landing, the process is reversed; the chilled cargo is unloaded from the aircraft, placed in refrigerated trucks and warehouses, and, ultimately, shipped to its final destination.

Customer service is key

Over the years, Atlas Air has been able to refine its approach through learned best practices, most of which have been gleaned through conversations with the ones that know the flowers best: the farmers who grow them.

After every peak season, Atlas Air representatives visit farmers to see how that year’s operation went. What went well? What could be done better? How can service be improved?

Peak season is particularly important to the industry. For some farms, the performance during peak season could make a difference in whether they are profitable.

Overall, the feedback from Atlas customers has been exceptional.

“Operating on time and having an expedited release process is something our customers and the industry are looking for,” Lucas said. “During our outreach, most of the feedback that we get is excellent. Customers feel we’ve been doing a great job handling these peak seasons.”

Next stop: Mother’s Day

For Frank, Arian, Lucas and many other hardworking Atlas team members, this is only the beginning of peak flower season.

“Mother’s Day is pretty comparable to Valentine’s Day,” said Frank. “Maybe even a little busier.”

You can be sure that the work for May 8th has already started.


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