Field of Science

FedEx, why oh why do you hate us so?

The cells we're trying to ship to London (post 1, post 2) are back in our freezer.

When I last blogged about them (on Monday) they had been sent back to us by the local FedEx office because the paperwork wasn't perfect and we needed to put the styrofoam container into an appropriately labeled cardboard box.  We'd fixed the errors (not all ours) and were only waiting to get some dry ice from Chemistry Stores on Tuesday.

So we sent the cells off on Tuesday with 8 kg of dry ice, and on Wednesday they came back again!  This time there were only three tiny errors in the paperwork, only one of which was our oversight.  But the errors were easy to fix (at least after I again called the helpful people at FedEx's Dangerous Goods office), so we topped up the dry ice and sent the shipment off again (third time) on Wednesday afternoon.

It didn't come back on Thursday morning (premature sigh of relief), but when we tracked its progress on Friday morning we found that, although it had been accepted by the Vancouver airport office in Richmond and shipped off to their Memphis hub, Memphis had sent it back to Richmond!  It had arrived there early on Friday morning and was awaiting clearance (customs?).

I thought it would then be delivered back to us, but when it hadn't shown up by Friday afternoon I had to rush to the airport to fetch it, because I didn't want the cells to thaw out over the weekend.  The clerk at the airport FedEx office showed me the tracking record in his system.  The package had been rejected by the Memphis Ramp Agent, without any explanation.  The clerk couldn't find anything wrong with the paperwork or packaging, except maybe that the 'dangerous goods' status should have been indicated on the computer-generated waybill.  He said that it's very tricky to do this annotation on a computer-generated waybill, and kindly gave me a stack of paper/carbon copy waybills to use next time.  On Monday I'll call the Dangerous Goods office again, to see if they either agree with this or have another explanation.

To add insult to injury, the RA says that FedEx is charging us the full price (more than $200) for each failed shipment!

Will we try again?  Maybe not.  The researcher who was going to do the assays in London is about to leave for a post-doc position at Stanford.  And the RA says that we should just do the assays here, because she's done them before and they're not difficult.

Monday morning update:  I just spoke to a FedEx Dangerous Goods expert.  He said that the UK will not accept any shipments containing agents infectious to humans!  My London colleagues had assured me that no import permit was needed for Haemophilus influenzae, and this document appears to confirm that, since H. influenzae is in Hazard Group 2.

Another update:  I called FedEx back - it's a UK FedEx rule, not a UK government rule.  Too bad they didn't bother to tell me this any of the other three times I spoke to them about this shipment; they'd have saved us a lot of money.


  1. world courier, and only world courier

  2. When we ship cells or constructs, we expect the lab that requested them to pay. It may be our effort and packaging, but we're not stuck with the bill.

  3. @Anonymous1: If my cursed university had its act together, we would have been able to find their info sheet about shipping dangerous goods. I'd never heard of World Courier, but that's one of the shippers they suggest.

    @Anonymous2: This is a collaboration, not just a strain request, so both labs contribute to the costs.

    But I'm going to call/write FedEx to ask for our money back.

  4. Cold shipping cells is a delicate process, therefore a specialized service is needed for safe transport. Cryoport is a trusted shipper of biological materials. They use liquid nitrogen dry vapor shippers to ensure the temperature does not go above -150°C. Check Cryoport out:


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