This year’s moving season for military personnel and their families is in high gear, and some troops are already feeling the effects of stretched capacity in the moving industry.
Service members are encouraged to put in their request for a household goods move as soon as possible. But one service member reported to Military Times that some troops who have had a moving company lined up through the military “are reporting that they have been ghosted and now can’t even rent [portable storage units or rental trucks] because it’s such a mess.” Yet service members’ report dates to their next duty station are not changed, he noted.
“Military areas with the tightest reported capacity include Washington state, North and South Dakota, California, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico,” said Scott Ross, spokesman for U.S. Transportation Command. In many areas, moving companies are booked through June and into July, he said.
To date, TRANSCOM is seeing an increased volume of shipments — about 5 percent above their three-year average, Ross said. But during the week of May 24, the volume rivaled what is historically the busiest week in the year—the last week of June, he said. Shipment volumes projected over the next four weeks are in line with historical averages, he said, and the military services all project “typical” volumes this season.
But it’s a matter of less industry capacity to handle the moves that are happening. “Like many sectors, the moving and storage industry reports significant labor challenges and — as a result — faces tighter-than-normal capacity this moving season, resulting in longer lead times to finalize bookings,” Ross said. This is affecting DoD moves as well as the commercial sector, where summer is also the busiest moving season. The peak moving season is from about mid-May to the end of August.
“While we understand labor constraints facing suppliers — to include those operating in the Defense Personal Property Program — a customer should never be ‘ghosted’ by their moving company,” he said. TRANSCOM officials are tracking these instances closely, Ross said.
“We recognize the fierce competition for moving crews and drivers, but effectively stranding a service member, not returning calls, or otherwise leaving families guessing as to what is going to happen with their shipment is about as disrespectful as it gets,” he said. “There’s no place in the program for companies that operate like this.
“If this happens to a customer, they should contact their local transportation office and chain of command to discuss options immediately,” he said.
The services reported to TRANSCOM there were 49 of these instances last week, Ross said. “It doesn’t mean we necessarily had to jump in and do anything,” he said, and it didn’t mean that families didn’t have their household goods picked up. “It just means there was an issue [the local transportation officials] had to resolve. That’s the place where the issue gets fixed.”
Dan Bradley, director of government and military relations for the International Association of Movers, said that a variety of factors are causing the situation of stretched capacity. He’s seeing instances earlier this year of companies having to “turn back” moves to TRANSCOM they had previously accepted and scheduled for service members because of unforeseen problems with labor or other issues.
It’s not clear whether more PCS moves are happening earlier as a result of the services’ push to get PCS orders out earlier to ease the peak moving season crunch, or whether these are some military moves that were put off from last year’s pandemic PCS delays. TRANSCOM has said there was no backlog of military moves at the end of 2020. As of Dec. 15, commercial movers had moved 321,000 household goods and unaccompanied baggage shipments and 57,000 vehicles, representing 85 percent of the volume in 2019.
Not only is the moving industry facing a shortage of labor, to include packers and drivers, but they’re also facing a shortage of wood and wood products, Bradley said. There’s been a long-standing shortage of truck drivers. “So between labor shortages and wood shortages, some of those things are certainly causing some restricted capacity,” Bradley said. Wood crates are used in some shipments within the continental U.S., but they are required if the shipment is international.
In some areas, there’s also a shortage of equipment, he said, as some companies rent trucks and other items.
Service members who want to move themselves — or have no other choice —may be finding shortages of rental trucks in their areas, too.
“Demand is high for U-Haul moving equipment this summer, as it is every summer in most markets we serve across the U.S. and Canada,” said Jeff Lockridge, spokesman for U-Haul International. He noted that about 45 percent of all residential moves happen between Memorial Day through Labor Day during a typical year. “Customer demand for our products and services—and all forms of affordable mobility solutions —have been particularly strong since the pandemic lockdown was lifted in 2020.”
There are always markets where demand is higher for one-way equipment, and when more equipment is leaving an area than coming in, it can leave imbalances in inventory, although local and corporate teams work daily to address the allocation of U-Haul equipment, Lockridge said.
For those who may not be able to find a rental truck or other equipment in their area on a given day, he recommends considering driving a little farther to pick up that equipment, which could increase the odds of being able to get the needed equipment. Moving early in the week, rather than over the weekend, when demand tends to be highest, could also increase the odds of getting equipment, he said.
“We encourage customers to consider some of our other, and perhaps more readily accessible, moving solutions,” he said, such as towing an enclosed trailer, or packing items into a U-Box portable moving and storage containers. U-Haul can then ship them or store them anywhere in the world.
Pentagon Bureau Chief Meghann Myers contributed to this report.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.