What to expect when shipping LTL


Have you ever gone to a movie with sky high expectations only to be disappointed by everything about it? You saw the trailer and thought it looked funny or compelling, or both! Then you get to the theater and the opening credits start to roll and its two hours of forced dialogue, wooden actors, and a pacing that could drive Carrie Nation to drink.

Having the right level of expectations is important to having a delightful experience. The same is true for shipping less-than-truckload (LTL) freight. Going in with high expectations is only going to lead to disappointment. Knowing where you stand upfront can help mitigate disappointment and keep your expectations in check. Here are a few things that you can do to better manage your expectations:

1. Pallets, Pallets, Pallets!

One of the easiest things you can do to make shipping freight easier for yourself as well as the carriers is utilizing standard pallets. LTL is not like shipping parcel. If you are trying to ship ten boxes to someone, shipping them individually is a recipe for disaster. Things are going to get lost or damaged. If you were to put those ten boxes on a pallet and ship them all together it will cut down on the chances of damage and lost items. It’ll also make the carriers happy that they only have manage one pallet and not ten boxes.

2. Be Prepared Before the Carrier Arrives

LTL carriers are not in the 'standing around' business. Most carriers will not wait for you to get the shipment ready while they wait at your door. If the freight is not ready when they arrive, they are going to turn around and head back to the terminal and probably charge you for the dry run. The best way to insure you’re not charged a dry run fee is to have the freight ready before you book the carrier. Obviously, if you are booking a pickup a week in advance, you won’t need to be ready before booking - but as a general rule of thumb it's good to be prepared in advance.

3. The Two-Hour Window

One of the biggest things that is overlooked when it comes to LTL is the time it takes the carriers to mobilize and get their ducks in a row to get out for a pickup. At an absolute minimum, carriers require two hours between booking and pickup. 

This varies between carriers, and there are some exceptions, such as if the carrier was already coming out to your location - but a good rule is two hours. This means trying to schedule a same day pickup at 3 PM probably isn’t the best idea. Some carriers do same day pickups, but the later in the day you book the shipment the less likely the pickup will occur as planned.

4. Know Your Timeframe

Does it need to be there by a certain day? How about before noon? LTL freight is not a precise industry.

There are countless things that can go wrong and slow the process down along the way. Driver errors, terminal backlog, missed departure times and a whole host of other things that can happen. If it needs to be there by a certain date, springing for a guaranteed delivery or one of the premium carriers might be the better option. Timing is not LTL’s strength. Carriers are dealing with thousands of shipments and trying to get them where they need to be as fast as possible. There are a lot of moving parts so flexibility on your part is a necessity, especially when it comes to delivery dates.

The End!

To recap, LTL freight is a complex web of possibilities. Things go wrong all the time, but setting the right expectations can make the process less painful. The few things we talked about here can help with this process. Palletizing your loads, having them ready before the carrier arrives, booking more than two hours before pickup, and understanding that carrier timeframes change can go a long way.

Laying the groundwork before booking makes all the difference. LTL can be stressful, but if you go in with an open mind and the ability to be flexible, it can work for you. Happy Shipping.