How UPS Works

UPS Worldport

Once the containers are loaded on the plane, the plane carries them to Worldport -- the UPS Global Operations Center -- in Louisville, Kentucky. Worldport is where the sort happens.
Worldport is enormous, bigger than the adjacent Louisville International Airport's passenger terminal, and an upcoming $1 billion expansion will make it even bigger. Currently, eighty football fields could fit inside, and if you walked all the way around the perimeter you'd travel five miles. Worldport is too enormous to be air conditioned efficiently, so its exterior is painted white. Its interior resembles a rain forest made of roller coasters.

Aerial view of the UPS worldport
Image © Copyright 2003 United Parcel Service of America, Inc. All rights reserved.
The UPS Worldport, viewed from above

At most airports, people use brightly-colored cones or flares to manually direct the pilots as they land and taxi. But at Worldport, pilots steer the plane to a painted box marked with the model of the plane. Mirrors attached to the buildings give pilots a better view of where they need to go.

Once the airplane stops, employees unload the containers and remove the packages. Usually, this is one of only two times that people touch the packages in the Worldport facility.

To start them through the sort, a UPS employee scans your packages' labels and places them on three different conveyors:

  • The tickets are in a flat letter envelope, which goes with the smalls. Most smalls are letters and other documents. Each small goes into its own tray on a conveyor belt.
  • The Batmobile is in an ordinary, 6-sided box, so it goes with the other 6-sided packages on another conveyor belt.
  • The lightsaber definitely isn't a small, and it's too long to go on the conveyor with the 6-sided boxes. It goes with the other irregularly-shaped packages, known as irregs. Each irreg goes under elastic straps on flat cars that carry them along the conveyor belt.

UPS wireless scanner and terminal
Image © Copyright 2003 United Parcel Service of America, Inc. All rights reserved.
UPS employees in Worldport and regional hubs use wireless scanners that they wear on their hands. The scanners communicate using Bluetooth and WiFi signals.

Sorters used to have to memorize lists of zip codes and addresses so they could make sure packages went onto the right conveyor belt. Now, all they have to do is sort packages into smalls, irregs and 6-sided boxes and place them on a conveyor belt with the label facing up. This is because scanners and computers keep track of every package inside Worldport. To do this, the computers make 59 million database transactions every hour. If the package's label isn't facing up, the computer can't figure out where it's headed or where to send it.