From the fields of Colombia to the highways of the U.S., the North American flower market is an enormous system with complex variables and spikes in demand. Flowers are popular year-round in America, especially on days like Mother’s Day in early May.
Atlas Air plays an integral role in the larger system by carefully carrying flowers from South America to their destinations, whether that be weddings or supermarkets. Atlas Air works hard making sure flowers are kept bright and fresh—and that they arrive on time to lift spirits and make memories.
“We’re a small but important part of the supply chain,” said Luis Fernando Del-Valle, Regional Director, Brazil, Colombia & Argentina. “It takes an agent to coordinate it, a farmer to grow it, a trucker to drive it, and, finally, an airline to bring it. And that’s us.”
Transporting flowers is so important because, as the last few years have shown, the flowers are important to Americans. Frank Diaz, Director of Sales and Marketing at Atlas Air, whose job includes forecasting, said he thought that demand for flowers during the pandemic would fall along with hotel bookings and event cancellations.
“I was so wrong… the demand from consumers during COVID for flowers was just as big as it ever was,” Diaz said, adding that the pandemic may not have had as great of an impact on demand because people still wanted flowers in their homes. “I was really pleasantly surprised how resilient the flower business is.”
For Diaz, this offered a striking reminder of why the many flower shipment flights that Atlas makes, such as during peak flower holidays like Mother’s Day, are so meaningful.
Del-Valle said the American flower market also supports the farmers who grow them, such as in Latin America. Each Mother’s Day season, Atlas ships over five million kilograms of flowers—including roses, hydrangeas, and carnations—from South America total. Earlier this year, Atlas Air dedicated over 50 flights from Columbia and Ecuador to fly flowers to the U.S. ahead of the Valentine’s Day rush.
“Consumers and shippers are supporting local economies and farms,” Patricio Sanchez, Regional Director, Chile, Ecuador, & Peru, emphasized. “In Colombia, flowers are one of the largest parts of the country’s economy. They’re important for those communities and people.”
In fact, Colombia is the second-largest exporter of flowers in the world. For both Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, Atlas Air doubles the number of flights it flies from Ecuador and Colombia.
The main difference between Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day is temperature: there’s a bit more risk when flowers could be exposed to heat in May. But Atlas Air takes countless precautions to ensure flowers stay as fresh as possible, from the moment they leave the farm until the moment they are in mom’s hands.
Before flowers are loaded onto an aircraft, they must be transported to the airport. To ensure freshness, flowers are transported in refrigerated trucks. Once the flowers arrive, members offload them into large vacuum-like machines that take out moisture to keep them fresh. The cargo is then loaded into coolers, where it’s securely stored at temperatures between two to eight degrees Celsius for the rest of the flight.
Upon landing, the process is reversed. The flowers are unloaded from the aircraft, placed in refrigerated trucks and/or warehouses, then shipped to their final destination.
“If I’m shipping it, I’m supporting it”
Diaz has been involved in the transportation of flowers for over a decade now and has made it a habit to always buy flowers to support the flower market.
“If I’m shipping it, I’m supporting it,” he said.
When asked how his wife reacts to the flowers he brings home, Diaz laughed. “I’ve been at Atlas Air for 12 years. Before, there was a certain reaction to it. Now, if I don’t do it, my family is like, ‘where are my flowers?’”
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