A push to screen all cargo was a response to "the latest threats and the considerable progress made by industry in screening international inbound cargo," James Fotenos, a TSA spokesman, wrote in an e-mail. "TSA’s mission is to ensure the safety of the traveling public.... After the thwarted attempt by terrorists to ship explosives aboard aircraft headed to this country last October, TSA immediately took a number of steps to enhance security by tightening existing air cargo."
Among those steps for US-bound international flights, TSA ordered a ban on any cargo designated as "high risk." Other safeguards, meanwhile, heavily restricted small packages sent by mail, which often travel in the cargo holds of passenger aircraft.
The policies, combined with bad weather, meant that some people in the US waited weeks to get their packages, especially over Christmas when there was a big jump in the amount of intercontinental mail. In some cases, the US Postal Service was forced to reroute US-bound mail, putting it on air-cargo-only flights and even ships.
"I had a batch of items sent to the US on the 26th November that took ages," wrote Chocolatecatgirl, an eBay seller in Britain who sells items in the US. "One customer got snotty after 2 weeks and I had to refund."
Delays have lessened as mail volume has dropped – and as postal systems abroad have become familiar with US requirements, say US Postal Service and air cargo experts.
But will new air freight requirements cause the same kind of disruption with air cargo that occurred with small mailed packages in December?