After a rocky year moving to new orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Air Force is warning its troops that supply shortages could make transitions difficult this summer too.
April to September tend to be peak moving months around the nation, but after coronavirus forced many civilian and military families to put off transitioning to their new homes, moving companies were forced to downsize. Now the demand is overwhelming what the moving industry can handle in its smaller state.
“Department of Defense demand this peak permanent change (PCS) of station season has greatly exceeded commercial industry capabilities, largely due to resource constraints associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” an Air Force Personal Property Activity Headquarters memo states. “Per industry, this resulted in a 25% decrease in their labor pool, resulting in decreased personal property movement capacity necessary to support private sector and government demand.”
This summer has the potential to be one of the biggest moving seasons for military families since many had to defer their PCSs due to COVID.
DoD put restrictions on who could travel or access bases at the beginning of the pandemic. It eventually settled on a color-coded system to dictate which installations were cleared for travel.
Now 90% of bases are in the “green” zone, meaning that service members can move to new orders or visit bases without any special authorization. The number hovered in the 40% to 65% range for a large part of 2020.
Katie McMichael, director of moving and storage conference at the American Trucking Associations, told Federal News Network, this summer is that “perfect storm” for moving demand.
“COVID obviously hit everyone hard,” she said. “The commercial market slowed down during COVID, but it has come roaring back. You are seeing it in the relocation trends, people are moving with the changing way people are working now.”
McMichael added that third party freight services were affected by COVID and not as many are available to ship goods.
To mitigate the impact, the Air Force Joint Personal Property Shipping Offices say they are employing all available tools and options to accommodate shipment and delivery requests. DoD services and U.S. Transportation Command are working with commercial industry to modify business rules and add flexibility to achieve maximum carrier capacity.
McMichael said those efforts are extremely helpful, but there is not a magic solution.
The Air Force said there are some actions airmen can take to add more flexibility and ease the burden of moving:
Get shipping requests in four to six weeks prior to the pickup window.
Ask about expanding pack/pickup (a.k.a., “spread date”) windows from the current seven-day requirement to 14 days.
Contact the assignments team to determine if they can postpone the move by changing the report-not-later-than date.
Airmen also have the option of “do-it-yourself” moves. DoD now offers 100% reimbursement of costs plus a fuel surcharge and other accessory costs.
“In addition to the old “rent a truck” option, airmen now have access to new modes within the commercial industry called portable moving and storage containers,” authors of an Air Force release wrote. “These containers are dropped at the home, the service member packs them and the company picks up, transports, stores and then delivers at the destination. Some companies also offer a menu of associated services including full or partial packing.”