Five Solutions to Costly Time-Critical Shipping Challenges

Delays in time-critical shipping can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars lost, missed opportunities, and even loss of life. Whether shipping critical manufacturing and airplane parts, vaccines, organs for transplant, or lab work, these important shipments must be picked up and arrive on time.

However, industry statistics have shown that one in three time-critical shipments have not arrived when needed. Why is this the case? Following are common challenges associated with these shipments.

  • Logistical Complexity – Determining logistics for time-critical shipments, such as organs for transplant, medicine and medical specimens, and critical plane parts, can be extremely difficult, with most starting at an arbitrary place (lab, hospital, warehouse) versus an airport. There are numerous options to take the package to its final destination—more than 180 million ways to go just from San Francisco to Boston, as one example. In addition to choosing the best route, factors like traffic, weather, and accidents also need to be considered as events unfold, making it a highly complex and ever-evolving equation.
  • Outdated Tools – Despite the growing complexity of transporting time-critical shipments, many industry providers continue to rely on manual processes, examining thousands of flight options by eye and padding times before flights to accomodate for unknown pickup times. Then there is coordination of all of the parties—from pickup and destination drivers to air carriers—often still done via phone.
  • Lack of Visibility – From not being transferred to the next party, to being left on the runway, to being delivered to the wrong address—mistakes can happen with providers that may not have visibility into processes. Visibility is necessary to make up for lost time. In the case of organs for transplant, even knowing of a delay can be helpful. “A 30-minute delay that does not get communicated to us could impact a patient by three hours…it’s important for us to know as soon as possible what is happening. Having all of this information allows us to make the best clinical decisions that ultimately ensure a more successful outcome,” said Luis Mayen of The Donor Network.

How can logistics professionals ensure time-critical shipments are more likely to arrive on time? Following are five critical factors.


Consider the example of a time-critical shipment traveling from Boston to San Francisco with more than 180M transport options. That package could fly out of SFO, OAK, or LAX; take a direct or indirect flight; be driven part way. While there are millions of options, only one path is optimal for biological tissue, as opposed to a manufacturing part or cryogenic materials. Now consider a package travelling from San Francisco to Hamburg, Germany; it has a quadrillion different paths it could take.

As a “needle-in-the-haystack-type” of computational problem, determining the best route(s) for time-critical shipments is often best performed by computers. AI, neural networks, and deep learning can provide the orchestration layer to determine optimal routes in seconds (versus the 30-minute industry standard) based on how similar materials have been routed successfully in the past. They also continue to get smarter over time and enable people to make better decisions based on that data.

Real-Time Tracking

DoorDash and Amazon show proof of delivery. However, the time-critical shipping industry has been behind in this respect, and antiquated methods face challenges from tracking regulations and routing entry to third-party platforms. While some delays are inevitable—hurricanes, traffic, flight cancellations—with greater transparency, packages can be rerouted to make up for lost time, helping shippers to plan better. Tracking can also provide visibility into temperature, humidity, motion, and light exposure for medical specimens and other items.


Though time-critical shipments often need to arrive at their destinations in a matter of hours, the initial process (placing an order, receiving a quote and route information, dispatching a driver, and pick-up) may take 90 minutes or more for some carriers. Shippers should consider proven metrics and mechanisms, the ability to provide instant quotes, to dispatch a driver in a short timeframe (such as under 10 minutes), and a track record in on-time pickup and delivery.


No one ever wants an issue to happen, but when it does (like when COVID disrupted flights or accidents and delays happen), it needs to be resolved quickly, making 24/7 access to a real person essential.

Price Transparency

In dealing with something that needs to be shipped quickly, shippers need to be able to receive a quote and have transparency into the final costs, in minutes, to make the best decision.

With time-critical shipments, there is a lot on the line. It’s important to work with trusted providers and to use technology that can provide greater transparency and speed to improve the lives of those that are touched by them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *