Watch Now

American Airlines transport its first COVID vaccine shipment (with video)

Pfizer vaccine originates in Chicago, heads to Caribbean

An American Airlines 777 jet being loaded with temperature-controlled containers containing Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine. (Photo: American Airlines)

A shipment of Pfizer Inc.’s (NYSE: PFE) COVID-19 vaccine is scheduled to arrive at a U.S. territory in the Caribbean on Monday aboard an American Airlines flight, the company said. 

The airline received a truck shipment at Chicago O’Hare International Airport and flew it Sunday night on a Boeing 777-200 aircraft to Miami, American’s hub for Latin America.

Company officials declined to disclose the vaccine’s ultimate destination, but the flight schedule shows Monday departures for San Juan, Puerto Rico, and St. Thomas.

American in November conducted rehearsals with pharmaceutical companies and logistics partners from Miami to South America to practice transport under simulated conditions.

“We were able to mobilize within hours of getting the call to move thousands of doses. We know this is the first of many shipments to come, and we are ready to scale our operation as additional vaccine is produced and ready for distribution,” American Airlines Cargo President Jessica Tyler said in a statement.

American Airlines loading a Boeing 777 aircraft with temperature-controlled containers containing the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. (Source: American Airlines)

FedEx Express (NYSE: FDX) and UPS (NYSE: UPS) likely outsourced the shipment to American because they are responsible for transportation of the Pfizer vaccines.

“We are working collaboratively and confidentially with several partners on vaccine distribution,” spokesman Derrick Chengery said, declining to provide specifics.

American has a large network of stations that specialize in processing temperature-sensitive shipments, which are tracked through its cargo control center in Fort Worth, Texas. It is also certified by the International Air Transport Association for having proven tools, procedures and trained staff able to properly handle life science products.

FedEx and UPS are giant logistics companies that operate their own airlines and are handling most of the vaccine airlift for Pfizer. United Airlines has reportedly flown some shipments from Pfizer’s plant in Belgium to Chicago to ensure Pfizer had enough supply for the initial wave of U.S. distribution.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


Big 3 US airlines gear up to transport COVID-19 vaccines

FedEx, UPS trucks depart with first Pfizer COVID vaccines

FedEx, UPS activate delivery networks after FDA approves Pfizer vaccine

Michigan airports support airlift of Pfizer vaccine

Contingency planning guides Pfizer vaccine distribution flow

DHL to deliver Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Germany

Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]