It's been a long couple weeks, but we (and 1.2 million honey bees) survived! This year we brought 120 Russian-Carniolan hybrid bee packages from Vacaville, California to rainy Portland, Oregon. They were created on the afternoons of Thursday, April 24th and May 1st, given some fondant for the trip (no liquid feed allowed on airplanes), taken to Delta and loaded as cargo.
The first week went splendidly. The bees made a detour to Atlanta (apparently no direct cargo flights to Portland) and then arrived on the morning of April 25th. We immediately whisked them from the tarmac to our truck, sprayed them with syrup to replenish them after a long trip. They looked fantastic; the strongest packages we've seen! They were taken to our store where they huddled together on a couple pallets until 50+ customers arrived in waves on Saturday morning. I gave install tutorials to customers who needed it, and others checked in, took their packages and left.
The second week wasn't so splendid. We arrived around 11:00AM on the day of arrival to find that our bees were still sitting in Atlanta. This wasn't good news. Delta told us that the packages would be coming on a flight landing at 7:17PM. Frustrated, we drove back to the shop (this was Jill and my 6th wedding anniversary, too...). We arrived that night, concerned about the well-being of our bees, as they'd been sitting all day at an airport and then on a plane with no liquid feed. We showed them our paperwork and were immediately informed they weren't there. Our hearts sunk. How could this be? She told us they "didn't have time to load" the bees. We informed her that these are live animals that are surely very hungry at this point. She told us the earliest they might arrive would be the next morning around 11:00AM, which was hours after 60 people were scheduled to arrive at our shop to pick up their bees. Customers driving from all over the pacific northwest were going to be in for some bad news, and possibly a wasted drive.
We spent at least an hour talking to the airline about the ramifications of this, and what a nightmare we were dealing with. Best case scenario the bees would arrive at 11:00AM no worse for wear and other than being tardy, everything would be fine. Worst case scenario, they'd not only arrive late, but possibly dead. We didn't know what the situation was in Atlanta -- they could have been sitting on the tarmac for all we knew!
After a great deal of insistence, we were given a super-secret phone number for the cargo people in Atlanta. At 5:00AM Eastern (2:00AM Pacific) they would begin answering this phone. To ensure our bees make it on the flight they told us we should call this number at 2:00AM Pacific time. Long night ahead...
We left the airport and headed to the shop to begin calling (and e-mailing) customers about the predicament. Many were driving from as far away as Seattle or southern Oregon. All who answered were very understanding, but we were more concerned about those who didn't answer and were going to drive to Portland unaware of the missing bees.
I began calling the secret Atlanta number at 2:00AM...and didn't stop calling until 3:03AM when they finally picked up. They were clearly confused as to why a wireless number in Oregon was calling them. The man who answered was fantastic. He told me he'd call down to the loaders and make it happen if at all possible. Who knows what affect this had. I went to bed and woke up at 7AM to call them to make sure the bees made it on the flight. The woman who answered told me she couldn't talk to me and I should never call this number again. Wow.
The cargo folks in Oregon answered and let me know it appeared the bees were on the flight. Hooray! I e-mailed everyone and told them we'd have tentative pickups starting at 12:30PM. Then I went back to sleep.
I arrived at the airport again, now feeling a sense of deja vu. The attendant seemed startled I was back. She didn't know the bees hadn't arrived the previous night. She immediately looked into it and came back, ashen faced. She told me the packages were damaged and this is why they had been bumped off of their two flights. My heart sunk. I was mortified. She told me to stay put while she went out to the tarmac.
She finally returned and told me to follow. I walked up to the luggage trailer where half a dozen men were gawking at the spectacle. I
opened the curtain to reveal 5 bees flying around their packages. There were a few holes in the second layer of protective screen that had been wrapped around the packages. This "damage" had held up 600,000 bees from shipping. The bees inside looked great! We quickly loaded them onto some carts and took them to my truck where I fed them (with the help of a WONDERFUL Delta employee) and then rushed them to Bee Thinking where a couple dozen customers cheered at the arrival of the bees! Crises averted.
Next year, to avoid similar issues, we plan to drive to California and pick up the packages in person.