Fans of old war movies will likely recognize the blue and red striped letters the protagonists exchanged with their loved ones back home. These letters (and their aviation-themed stamps) were airmail letters.
USPS considered airmail letters as a separate class of mail and would charge more for this expedited service. Nowadays, almost all domestic and international mail travels by plane and airmail have died out. But, if you’re still curious about the history of airmail, I’ve researched the topic!
What Are Airmail Stamps?
Historically, Airmail stamps were postage stamps used to pay for an item to be transported by air or to pay the airmail fee charged in addition to the surface rate. However, USPS no longer prints specific Airmail stamps as most domestic and international mail is transported by airplanes.
If you’d like to find out more about airmail service and Airmail stamps, then make sure to read the rest of my research!
What Is USPS’ Airmail Service?
Before discussing Airmail stamps, it’s helpful to have a bit of background about airmail service in general.
That said, airmail service began in the United States in 1918 and continued as a separate service until 1975.
Further, this mail transport service was marketed and sold on the basis that at least part of the mail’s journey would occur via air.
Therefore, airmail items typically arrived quicker than surface mail and usually cost more to send.
During this period, USPS issued special envelopes and stamps for those wishing to purchase airmail service.
Nowadays, mail service is categorized and sold based on transit time, with the transportation mode (land, sea, air) being decided behind the scenes.
Does Airmail Still Exist?
Airmail as a distinct service ended in practice in the United States in 1975 and was formally eliminated in 1977.
At that time, all domestic intercity First-Class mail was transported by air whenever practical and cost-effective.
Because so much mail was moving by air, it no longer made sense to have a separate class of service or pay structure for airmail.
However, USPS continued to charge extra for international airmail delivery until 1995.
At that time, the Postal Service announced that the words “airmail” would no longer appear on any US postage stamps.
Still, it’s important to remember that USPS transports a great deal of mail via air transportation. So, while airmail as a separate service no longer exists, mail delivery by air is alive and well.
In fact, USPS’ premium domestic and international services like Global Express Guaranteed and Priority Mail Express are only possible thanks to mail transported by air.
How Fast Is USPS Airmail?
While USPS doesn’t specifically mention airmail in its marketing, you can be sure that pretty much whatever you send domestically or internationally will be delivered (at least in part) by plane.
In terms of domestic services, Priority Mail Express promises overnight or two-day delivery, while Priority Mail offers one to three-day shipping.
For international shipments, Priority Mail Express International offers delivery in three to five business days, while Priority Mail International takes six to ten business days.
When Did USPS Stop Making Airmail Stamps?
USPS produced its last Airmail stamp bearing the words “airmail” in 1993.
In 1995, USPS produced an aviation-themed airmail stamp. However, this stamp did not say “airmail” but did cover the cost of mail being sent overseas.
Further, production of specific Airmail stamps dropped off after 1995 when USPS started transporting all domestic and international mail via plane.
Are Airmail Stamps Still Used Today?
USPS no longer prints or sells airmail stamps, but if you have old airmail stamps lying around, you can use them as long as you provide enough additional postage to cover the current rate.
That said, it’s USPS policy that all postage stamps—except for the exceptions below—issued by the United States since 1860 are valid postage from any location in the United States or any other place where US mail service operates.
But, postage stamps that are invalid for use include:
- Postage due, special delivery, special handling, and Certified Mail stamps
- Stamps from other countries
- United Nations stamps (except for mail deposited at the United Nations in New York)
- US stamps that are ripped or defaced
How Much Is An Airmail Stamp Worth?
Airmail stamps are denominational stamps, meaning their dollar value is printed on the stamp. So, this price remains the same regardless of how old the stamp is or when you use it.
What Are Airmail Etiquettes?
When discussing airmail, it’s important to distinguish between Airmail stamps and airmail etiquettes.
As I’ve mentioned, Airmail stamps were stamps used to cover mail delivery by plane. With that, these stamps typically cost more than other postage stamps and featured aviation themes.
On the other hand, airmail etiquettes were labels used to indicate that a letter should be sent by airmail.
In most cases, these were blue oblong stickers emblazoned with the phrases “AIRMAIL” or “PAR AVION” in white letters.
Further, these stickers had no monetary value and were only used to instruct postal clerks how to handle the mail.
As a result, their printing and distribution were not controlled in the same way as postage stamps, and most were privately produced.
In many cases, airmail etiquettes were omitted if a customer used Airmail stamps on their letter.
Likewise, some countries allowed customers to write “Airmail” on the letter instead of adding a sticker.
Officially speaking, it’s still USPS policy that international First Class and Priority Mail letters be marked with “AIRMAIL/PAR AVION.”
Still, this requirement is often ignored because all international mail coming from the US is sent by plane. Likewise, USPS no longer produces pre-printed airmail etiquettes.
While airmail as a distinct service may be gone, its legacy lives on in the modern Postal service. Nowadays, nearly everything is sent via planes, often in a week or less.
So, that means USPS customers get to enjoy the speed of airmail without having to worry about special stamps, envelopes, or stickers.