why might my mail not have been delivered and what can I do about it?
September 13, 2021 6:30 PM   Subscribe

One week ago, I placed over 20 notecards in a mailbox to address within my city. None have arrived yet. What could have happened and what can I do?

I placed over 20 cards in a local mailbox on Labor Day, destined to different addresses within my city. The intended recipients have apparently not received them yet, except for the one person whose address is outside the city (by 2 hours!).

I know it's possible they will still arrive. But these letters are extremely important to me (and, I think, will be to the recipients) and for reasons, it's not that feasible for me to re-send- besides, how would I know they'd get there a second time?!

I have tried calling the post office (nearest to that box) but they don't pick up. I've opened a query via email and got an autoreply that the matter is being looked into and I will be contacted. I've called the national number but they don't answer directly.

I have two questions- is there anything else I can do? I will be pretty devastated if the letters never arrive.

Two, if they don't get to their destinations, where would they be??

I also mailed a card from this mailbox to another state several months ago that never arrived. Maybe dumb of me to use the box again. If the letters are not being delivered, what's happening to them?

The cards were normal-sized cards and each had a forever stamp on it. I didn't put my return address for professional reasons. (Is that not enough postage?? They were not large or heavy cards. Plus, one of them was delivered.).
posted by bearette to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A week? I truly would not worry about this. Mail delivery is weird sometimes, to the point where I refuse to mail rent checks because once I mailed mine to a PO box eight blocks from my house and it took a month to arrive. Your cards will arrive in due time.
posted by corey flood at 6:38 PM on September 13, 2021 [12 favorites]

I would suggest going to the post office where you mailed them (or to whatever location serves the mail box where you dropped them). The people at the counter probably can't help, but a supervisor can. I had a couple issues and they were SUPER helpful.

But the fact that you didn't put a return address on anything may mean you're SOL. Despite the fact that one was delivered, the postage may not have actually been enough. So they have no way to return them to you, and if they do still know where they are, you have no way to prove that they're yours.
posted by jonathanhughes at 6:40 PM on September 13, 2021 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to note- my first and last name is on the cards in the return address location, but no address.

They were small-ish cards of normal thickness; I would think one forever stamp would be enough?
posted by bearette at 6:46 PM on September 13, 2021

(just to check - the cards weren't square, were they?)

But I second the suggestion to go to the post office to ask -- preferably at a low-ish traffic time of day. They're much more helpful in person.
posted by brainmouse at 6:49 PM on September 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No, the cards are rectangular, about 2/3 the width of a business envelope and same height.

(Thanks for suggestions to actually go to post office, I was catastrophizing so much I didn't actually think of that.)
posted by bearette at 6:54 PM on September 13, 2021

This page has a lot of info about first class mail. There are minimum dimensions (3 1/2 by 5 for most items). It has this to say about your mail not being delivered:

What can I do if my First-Class Mail, First-Class Package Service-Retail, or First-Class Package Service-Commercial item has not arrived?

If the expected item has not arrived after five (5) days from its date of mailing, you can document your mail loss complaint by emailing us or calling 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777).

The email us links to this page: https://usps.force.com/emailus/s/
posted by soelo at 6:56 PM on September 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Labor Day was a federal holiday, so USPS wasn't working then, and those drop boxes generally don't get checked until the end of the day, which means your cards didn't actually get picked up until Tuesday night. From USPS's perspective, this is only the fifth day they've been working on it, even though it feels like over a week to you.

Are all of the other recipients actually in the same city (i.e., not various suburbs)? I don't remember the specifics of how USPS sorts mail anymore (my dad used to be a postmaster for a small town), but I'm pretty sure your mail generally goes from the neighborhood post office to the central post office downtown and then to the recipient's neighborhood post office, where their letter carrier picks it up and delivers it to them. If the one recipient who got their card is serviced by another central post office (i.e., the third digit of the zip code is different), that could indicate that there's a backup at a particular USPS location.

Also remember that the post office has been pretty understaffed recently, and that affects mail delivery times. When my mom has mailed stuff to my kids, it's taken well over a week when we used to get it within two or three days.

And of course, if it's really important to be able to know when mail is delivered, you should send it certified or registered. That might be overkill in this case, both because you probably don't need to track it and because it would be expensive to send two dozen registered items. But maybe if you do something like this in the future, you could send a registered letter to one of the recipients as an indicator.

But more likely, they'll probably just be delivered normally sometime this week.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:21 PM on September 13, 2021 [11 favorites]

Since Trump's boy Louis DeJoy took over as Postmaster General, all mail has just been extremely flaky. Three weeks to a month is not out of the question, and distance does not seem to matter. Thirty years ago, the standard for 1st class mail was 2 days, coast to coast. I don't think ANY mail takes 2 days antmore, and Priority Mail seems just as likely to languish somewhere as anything else. Try waiting for a miracle to occur.
posted by ackptui at 7:43 PM on September 13, 2021 [24 favorites]

i work in a job that involves a lot of letters and it seems that service has been super unreliable nationwide since the pandemic started
posted by Jacqueline at 8:09 PM on September 13, 2021 [10 favorites]

In the future, I would mail one to myself too as a proxy for tracking them. Maybe mail one to a trusted friend too.

The forever stamp should be enough. I happen to think they will be delivered, but there is really not much you can do other than complaining in person (as noted above) to the right supervisor. The Supervisor cannot make them appear out of thin air. Maybe they send a person to check the box and make sure they are not stuck or under something.
posted by AugustWest at 10:04 PM on September 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Always put your return address on mail! As noted above, Postmaster General DeJoy may be the problem. It is not a secret that he was specifically appointed by Mr. Trump to slow down and obstruct mail delivery so that certain populations would not benefit from Vote-by-Mail when Mr. Trump runs again in 2024. Mr. DeJoy has removed sorting machines from post offices etc., to do his master's bidding. Vote by mail has been successful in Oregon for 20 years.
posted by Cranberry at 2:27 AM on September 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

Here in suburban Rhode Island, my son mailed four envelopes a month ago, and only two have arrived so far. The town is only like five miles across!
posted by wenestvedt at 4:12 AM on September 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Even if the postage is inadequate they should still be delivered, though your recipient may be charged a few cents (it’s happened to me). This year I’ve had some mail take a month or so - across the country or in the same town, doesn’t seem to matter.
posted by bunderful at 4:36 AM on September 14, 2021

I'm assuming this is in the US?

I'm an obstinate person who still pays roughly 1/3 of my bills by mail with a written check. As a side effect, I can watch how long it takes for the checks to clear, which is a proxy for how long it takes the envelopes to get through the mail.

My observations: A week plus is, unfortunately, the new standard, for these envelopes--which are not just standard sizes, but are also typically bar-coded for automated handling. I wouldn't be surprised if your items take longer.

The pandemic slowed delivery some at the outset, DeJoy's destructive interference before last year's election appears to have had a greater effect, at least in my observations.

Local delivery may still be slowed by staffing issues. The Postal Service in my city held a big job fair just at the end of last month, looking for sorters, carriers, and general workers.

That said, I haven't personally seen anything get completely lost. Anything I've sent or expected to get has gotten through--eventually.
posted by gimonca at 5:21 AM on September 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

nthing going to the post office, for sure; talking to a person will make this concrete to them in a way that web forms might not.

This is bizarro-land stuff, but those little postal jeeps (LLV=long life vehicles) are supposedly reaching end-of-life. AND that means things like fuel hoses are failing and it's not impossible that they literally catch fire. My parents sent my kid a birthday present in Spring of 2019ish? and put insurance on the package because they insure everything....and then the LLV caught fire, and insurance was a great bet.
posted by adekllny at 6:01 AM on September 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Were your addresses hand-written or printed? Perhaps the machines could not read the addresses?
posted by olopua at 7:46 AM on September 14, 2021

I’m guessing like others have that the mail is just slow for various reasons. However it is good to go chat with someone at your post office—repeated complaints (and specific mail that never arrived months after the initial sent date) were how our local postmaster got caught with a large plastic sack of other people’s unopened birthday cards in her office. Probably not what is happening in this case! But checking in is good.
posted by pepper bird at 11:38 AM on September 14, 2021

Do you live in a city where mail actually gets sorted?

If I addressed a letter to the person who rents the PO box next to mine and mailed it inside the post office it would go two hours north to be sorted before it was returned to our PO and could be delivered.
posted by jaruwaan at 9:28 PM on September 15, 2021

Response by poster: Went to chat to the person at the local post office after my email inquiry went unanswered. The response I got was, "unless there's a tracking number on them, we have no idea where they are." Repeated over and over.

I guess i should have forked over nearly $200 to track these. I can't afford that though.

Still hoping they get there! I live in a major city, Philadelphia, so I'm pretty sure the letters get sorted here. I didn't put my address on return address spot for specific professional and confidentiality reasons.

I've also asked in neighborhood facebook group and others have had experiences of mail put in that box never arriving.

I appreciate the feedback and still open to any ideas! I'll update if the letters arrive.
posted by bearette at 9:28 AM on September 16, 2021

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