Surfers and almonds – Lufthansa Cargo in San Francisco

Summer, sun, surfers – you could quickly get jealous with this view from the window. Such is everyday life for the Lufthansa Cargo employees in San Francisco. While the windsurfers on the ocean enjoy the consistently good weather, the six-member team in the 70-square-metre office ensure smooth cargo transport operations.


“Depending on the prevailing wind conditions, we can even see our cargo in Lufthansa’s LH 455 plane heading off above the Pacific towards Frankfurt”, explains Kris Palacios. She is one of five sales and handling agents who take care of Lufthansa Cargo’s business in San Francisco under Kevin Vaz, District Manager Sales and Handling, SFO FG/A. They are a well-established team with more than 60 years of combined SFO FG/A experience. “We can totally rely on one another”, says Palacios.


Two Lufthansa passenger aircraft leave each day for the Frankfurt and Munich hubs. Their bellies are well filled with Lufthansa Cargo freight. Around 110 tonnes are exported on average each week in this way. Imports of 90 tonnes a week account for almost half of the business. “The proximity to Los Angeles, which we serve with the MD-11F and also the 777 from AeroLogic, means we don’t need a freighter in SFO”, states Vaz. “We send large goods via Los Angeles to Frankfurt. But our station is still responsible for the handling and customer care.” One example is the automotive manufacturer Tesla Motors, which is headquartered in Silicon Valley, south of the San Francisco Bay Area. “Tesla has succeeded in creating a zero-emission sports car, which is produced in San Francisco. These cars, along with batteries and other vehicle parts, are transported by Lufthansa Cargo and others”, explains the District Manager. The team in SFO currently looks after around 130 customers. Besides Global Partners, such as Kühne+Nagel and DHL, these also include many local suppliers. “As a small station, we are always in personal contact with our business partners. All of our customers are equally important to us, regardless of size”, says Palacios.


“As a brand, Lufthansa Cargo stands for good service and high quality. Our customers also value this”, explains Vaz. “When the Lufthansa flagship, the Airbus 380, was deployed on the Frankfurt to San Francisco route, we took this opportunity to demonstrate the aircraft and a cargo loading operation to our customers. They were very impressed. However, this also increases expectationsand customers tend to be less tollerant with service failures from Lufthansa Cargo that they would be with other airlines.” Palacios knows: “With our quality promise, we have to ensure that nothing goes wrong, especially as the competition never sleeps. Besides KLM/Air France, Emirates and Air China, it is USA-based airlines carriers in particular which dictate the cargo price with their special offers.”


However, competition can also stimulate business and certain events can tip the scales in our favour. Sea freight is one example of this. Port workers went out on strike in the summer of 2004. This meant that the almonds grown in San Francisco could not be transported by ship to Europe, as was customary. Therefore, all of the fruit had to be shipped by air to Europe. Vaz reminisces: “It wasn’t just the cargo compartments of our passenger planes that were filled with almonds. We also organised road feeder services to Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas and Phoenix in order to fly all of the goods to Europe. At the end of the week, I emailed the tonnage figures to our area manager. I got an email back saying that I must have made a mistake as our tonnage was higher than that of a regular cargo station”, remembers a smiling Vaz. The proximity to the ocean not only gives the SFO FG/A team a beautiful view from the office window but can also provide a surprisingly high volume of business.