Airmail (or air mail) is mail that is transported by aircraft. It typically arrives more quickly than surface mail, and usually costs more to send. Airmail may be the only option for sending mail to some destinations, such as overseas, if the mail cannot wait the time it would take to arrive by ship, sometimes weeks.

In June 2006 the United States Postal Service formally trademarked "Air Mail" (two words with capital first letters) along with Pony Express. [ [ USPS News Release #06-043] (June 20, 2006) U.S. Postal Service Expands Licensing Program ] On 14 May 2007, "Air Mail" was incorporated into the classification "First Class Mail International". [ [ USPS International Mail Manual, Issue 35] ] [ [ USPS - First Class Mail International] ]


A postal service may sometimes opt to transport some regular mail by air, perhaps because other transportation is unavailable. It is usually impossible to know this by examining an envelope, and such items are not considered "airmail." Generally, airmail would take a guaranteed and scheduled flight and arrive first, while air-speeded mail would wait for a non-guaranteed and merely available flight and would arrive later than normal airmail.


A letter sent via airmail may be called an aerogramme, aerogram, air letter or simply airmail letter. However, aerogramme and aerogram may also refer to a specific kind of airmail letter which is its own envelope; see aerogram.

The choice to send a letter by air is indicated either by a handwritten note on the envelope, by the use of special labels called airmail etiquettes, or by the use of specially-marked envelopes. Special postage stamps may also be available, or required; the rules vary in different countries.

The study of airmail is known as aerophilately.


Specific instances of a letter being delivered by air long predate the introduction of Airmail as a regularly scheduled service available to the general public.

Although homing pigeons had long been used to send messages (an activity known as pigeon mail), the first mail to be carried by an air vehicle was on January 7, 1785, on a balloon flight from Dover to France near Calais.

During the first aerial flight in North America by balloon on January 9, 1793, from Philadelphia to Deptford, New Jersey, Jean-Pierre Blanchard carried a personal letter from George Washington to be delivered to the owner of whatever property Blanchard happened to land on, making the flight the first delivery of air mail in the United States. [cite web | title = Jean Pierre Blanchard: Made First U.S. Aerial Voyage in 1793 | publisher = | url = | accessdate = 2008-07-16] [cite web | title = Jean Pierre François Blanchard | publisher = U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission | url = | accessdate = 2008-07-16]

The first official air mail delivery in the United States took place on August 17, 1859, when John Wise piloted a balloon starting in Lafayette, Indiana with a destination of New York. Weather issues forced him to land in Crawfordsville, Indiana and the mail reached its final destination via train. In 1959 the U.S. Postal Service issued a 7 cent stamp commemorating the event. [cite web | title = 'Stamps Take Flight' exhibit from Postmaster General's Collection showcases world's rarest 'uncollectibles' at National Postal Museum | work = Press release | publisher = USPS | date = 2005-04-06 | url = | accessdate = 2008-07-04]

Balloons also carried mail out of Paris and Metz during the Franco-Prussian War (1870), drifting over the heads of the Germans besieging those cities. Balloon mail was also carried on an 1877 flight in Nashville, Tennessee.

The introduction of the airplane in 1903 generated immediate interest in using them for mail transport, and the first official flight took place on 18 February 1911 in Allahabad, India to Naini, India, when Henri Pequet carried 6,500 letters a distance of 13 km.

In Australia, the first air mail contract was won by the fledgling Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services (QANTAS), commencing in November 1922. Many other flights, such as that of the Vin Fiz Flyer suffered crashes and some ended in complete disaster, but many countries had operating services by the 1920s.

. (...) We carried the much advertised Air Mails. That meant the machines had to fly whether there were passengers to be carried or not. It was left to the discertion of the pilot whether or not the flight should be canceleld in bad weather; the pilots were dead keen on flying in the most impossible conditions. Sanderson got killed this way at Douinville. And all he had in the machine was a couple of picture postcards from trippers in Paris, sent to their families as a curiosity. That was the Air Mail. No passengers or anything - just the mail" [Nevil Shute, "So Disdained", London, 1928, Ch. 1] .

Since stamp collecting was already a well-developed hobby by this time, collectors followed developments in airmail service closely, and went to some trouble to find out about the first flights between various destinations, and to get letters onto them. The authorities often used special cachets on the covers, and in many cases the pilot would sign them as well.

The first stamps designated specifically for airmail were issued by Italy in 1917, and used on experimental flights; they were produced by overprinting special delivery stamps. Austria also overprinted stamps for airmail in March 1918, soon followed by the first definitive stamp for airmail, issued by the United States in May 1918.

The dirigibles of the 1920s and 1930s also carried airmail, known as dirigible mail. The German zeppelins were especially visible in this role, and many countries issued special stamps for use on zeppelin mail.


ee also

*Airmail etiquette
*Airmails of the United States
*Air Mail Scandal
*Airmail stamps of Denmark
*Mail plane
*Nellie Brimberry




*Richard McP. Cabeen, "Standard Handbook of Stamp Collecting" (Collectors Club, 1979), pp. 207-221

External links

* [ article] on early airmail service

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