Image: Tristan Loper/Flickr

Now You Can Pay People to Ferry Packages While They’re Traveling

You can also get paid to deliver random items—though most of them are abroad.

May 24 2017, 12:00pm

Image: Tristan Loper/Flickr

Ever want to get your hands on something that's not available locally, and wish you had a friend who could fetch it for you and drop it off at your doorstep? Maybe you've left something behind while traveling and thought, if only someone was still in the city you had visited and headed to your town who could get it to you. Now you can pay people to do just that through a new app called AirWayBill.

Carrying luggage for strangers may seem sketchy, but AirWayBill insists that everything is kosher. Users aren't ferrying around suitcases or unopened boxes. Instead, they're simply putting other people's unwrapped items in their own luggage and collecting a fee for it. It's like going to England and picking up a jar of Marmite a friend left behind and delivering it to them, or stopping by the liquor store in Wisconsin to smuggle some Spotted Cow past the border—except that you're doing this for strangers and getting paid for it. AirWayBill gets a carrier fee ($20 or 10 percent of the value of the item) as well as a shipping fee (20 percent) as its cut.

At first, AirWayBill's managing director, Khaled Sehly, declined to discuss whether the app could be breaking any TSA regulations, asking to go off the record. (I refused.) He then asked me to wait four weeks until they had real users, saying that the reviews left on the app were actually from peers rather than customers. In our next series of broken calls, Sehly directed me towards the app's terms and conditions and privacy policy, which he says were designed by a reputable law firm. Section 8 of the terms and conditions states that users must comply with technical and legal obligations and restrictions, including customs rules. However, it also indemnifies AirWayBill for liability related to shipments, stating that "any request will be made or accepted at the Members' own risk" and that unless it's explicitly specified otherwise within the platform, "AirWayBill's responsibilities are limited to the correct functioning of the app and its service to the interested parties."

TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said, "TSA has no regulations that prohibit this activity," but also said "It is important to understand that all checked baggage is screened for hazardous materials and explosives and that passengers are responsible for the content of their checked and carry-on baggage."

Unfortunately for wary couriers, AirWayBill is not planning on running background checks on anybody using their services. Sehly says that delivering packages for strangers—or at least friends of friends—is something that he's seen done in an unregulated way in the Middle East and parts of Europe, with people asking if someone could deliver items ranging from documents to baby food to their families. Still, the possibility of inadvertently smuggling who knows what still remains. "We always urge people not to carry anything that they are not super confident about," Sehly says, pointing out that deliverers can inspect the items they plan on transporting.

I tried to sign up to make a delivery, but the options available were all far away… Vitamins in need of delivery from San Francisco to Seoul, North Carolina and New Jersey to Delhi…Sehly himself offered $1100 to get an iPhone 7+ from New York to Saudi Arabia, someone wanted documents picked up in Dubai and delivered to Albania. Ahmed Ezz, market manager at NewBridge Pharmaceuticals in Saudi Arabia, has worked as a carrier while traveling for business in Dubai. He delivered a dress left behind in a hotel to Cairo and some perfume to Jeddah. "It was an interesting experience, I made some money, didn't make much efforts," he said via email, adding that the two deliveries landed him around $100.

Sehly also pointed out that there are some safeguards in place. The person delivering the package has a hold placed on their credit card for the value of the item. Carriers are responsible for the cost of an item if it is an illegal item that is seized. If it's seized improperly, AirWayBill will help recover it.