Learning about shipping objects

I was excited at the prospect of  visiting the cargo handling section of London Heathrow Airport on the 23rd of July 2010 as I had no idea of how couriering of art objects was done. I work in the documentation unit and I’m familiar with the selecting and packaging of objects travelling for exhibition outside the country but  I have always wondered what happens after that.My tour to the cargo handling section  explained everything explicitly.

Outside the cargo shed at LHR airport

I and other trainees were introduced to some members of staff of Virgin Atlantic group and Constantine, art shipping agents used by the British Museum. We were given a talk and a guided tour round the warehouse showing us the procedures of moving and packing objects for travelling. Some of the amazing things we were told was that the airway bill is the equivalent of our plane ticket but for a cargo crate. The airway bill bears the following information: Destination of the object, the waybill number, the charges, shippers, name of agent and the description of goods. This is followed by a message to the customs describing the pieces of goods and where it is going.

Loading object crate into pallet for plane

Securing object crate with strapping, inside cargo pallet

He showed us the consequences of loading cargoes with corrosive items using as an example, a warehouse that got burnt recently and explained the reason why objects are tied tightly together in case of turbulence, so as not to be damaged.

The representative from Constantine went on to explain that every object brought to them is handled with extreme care, not minding the size, as it is important to get them back to their clients (museums, art galleries etc) in one piece. He mentioned that it is of utmost importance to keep Museum objects and paintings in specific museum conditions to their destination at all times. We were also giving sample materials for packaging and treated to a nice lunch afterwards.

ITP participants in yellow safety jackets inside the Heathrow cargo shed

It was a wonderful experience and I enjoyed the day.

Cynthia Iruobe