By BEN ROWE
---- — PLATTSBURGH — When they mailed a package from the Post Office on Miller Street Wednesday afternoon, Lori and Albert Mills were given a common holiday warning.
“If it wasn’t Priority Mail, it probably wouldn’t get there before Christmas,” Mrs. Mills said.
The Millses were among a number of postal customers urged that afternoon to send their packages via Priority Mail.
For parcels bound for both domestic and international destinations, estimates for standard post shipping had the delivery dates hovering close to Dec. 25.
Although clerks emphasized that the choice was up to the customer, Mr. Mills said he preferred paying the few dollars extra for a stronger guarantee that his package would arrive at its North Bay, Ontario, destination before Christmas.
“You’re not 100 percent sure, but you’re hoping that you’re 100 percent sure,” Mr. Mills said.
‘CUTTING IT CLOSE’
That uncertainty, U.S. Postal Service regional spokeswoman Maureen Marion said, is often why clerks suggest the priority-shipping option this time of year.
As an example, she plotted a hypothetical shipping schedule for a package mailed on Wednesday, Dec. 11.
If sent standard delivery, its estimated arrival ranges between two and eight days.
Taking into consideration the lack of mail service on Sunday, Dec. 15, a package sent through standard mail on Dec. 11 may not arrive at its destination until Dec. 20.
That is assuming it does not encounter any delays along the way, Marion explained.
“One day off can create a little backup for everybody,” she said. “If you present it to me as a Christmas gift, I’m gonna try to say you’re cutting it close.”
The recent ice storm that spread across the Central and Mid-Atlantic states is one example of a weather system that could push that risky date over the edge.
“Santa has Rudolph, and they can get through, but we’re really dependent on the weather this time of year,” Marion said.
Another holiday-season factor that Plattsburgh Postmaster Sharon Larkin said needs to be taken into account is space available in mail trucks.
Along with having the option of flight delivery, priority-shipped packages are given preference on the trucks.
The increase in parcels shipped during the holidays — which Larkin said has risen with the growing number of online purchases — can often leave little room for standard-mail packages.
Larkin also explained that the Postal Service recently added some Priority Mail benefits, including insurance up to $100 and free online package tracking.
The recent closure of the Plattsburgh Mail Processing Center, she said, has had no major effect on holiday mail — the delivery time-frame for the 2013 holiday season is largely identical to what it was in the past.
Beyond taking the priority option, the advice that both Larkin and Marion offer is for postal customers to get their packages in as early as possible.
Dr. Gerald Harrell of Plattsburgh was mailing Christmas gifts to New Zealand on Wednesday afternoon. And while he agreed with the advice to mail early, he chose to send his parcels by standard mail.
“It’s for the babies,” he said, explaining that his infant grand-nephews wouldn’t mind the delay.
TO LEARN MORE
Find U.S. Postal Service holiday mailing deadlines at www.usps/holiday.