What to do about USPS’s “In Transit, Arriving Late” Status

white and blue usps truck mail on road during daytime

How to deal with the dreaded tracking update

If you’re here, you probably have at least one item that is totally stuck in the “In Transit, Arriving Late” status.

First of all, don’t panic. This sucks, but it isn’t the worst thing in the world because USPS probably still has your package, but it’s sort of in no-man’s land.

And you know this. You know this because your package is probably in this status for a long time. So here’s what you can do about this.


white and blue van on road during daytime mail usps arriving late

I know. This one is the worst. But honestly, waiting fixes a lot of the issues because almost every path leads right back to this one.

The package could be in a pile that is unsorted or in some sort of limbo at a facility, but there really isn’t much you can do sometimes but wait.

The simple truth of the matter is that a lot of factors can lead to this. Often it’s because the post office is totally overrun by volume and/or understaffed by personnel.

Recently, factors like COVID-19 and holiday volume have really put a ton of stress on post offices, and this status might have been applied because they simply cannot adhere to the time estimates the tracking originally stated.

File a help request with USPS

close view of two gray U.S mailboxes usps

I’m not a huge fan of this step, and I’ll explain why.

So first of all, you can file a request here. Check out Step 2 there. I’ve linked it for your convenience here.

You basically are encouraged to check your tracking number first, which you obviously have been doing.

Then, you fill out the Help Request form.

The thing is that I’m not exactly sure what this does behind the scenes. I imagine it sort of varies from post office to post office, but in my case, I didn’t really hear back or anything. However, I’m not going to bash the entire U.S. Postal Service here. It could just have been in my anecdotal cases it didn’t work out. This is still some sort of step, so you should try it–especially if you want to submit a missing mail search request, which I’ll explain in the next section.

Submit a Missing Mail Search Request

silver magnifying glass on book

You can do this after 7 business days after your online help request. Straight from the USPS website, this is what you will need:

  • Sender mailing address
  • Recipient mailing address
  • Size and type of container or envelope you used
  • Identifying information such as your USPS Tracking number(s), the mailing date from your mailing receipt, or Click-N-Ship® label receipt
  • Description of the contents such as what it is and the brand, model, color, or size, if applicable
  • Pictures that could help us recognize your item

This request then gets sent to your local post office.

The thing is that I have found that the post office never really got back to me. I don’t know if they ever saw it. Again, this might vary from post office to post office.

Calling your post office

minimalist photography of three crank phones

OK, so I’m sure you can find your local post office’s number on Yelp or Google or something. However, I’m not sure this always works. I have gotten robot helpers on the phone before, so your mileage will vary here. However, if you can get to a human and figure out anything, you might as well try.

I’m not convinced they will necessarily know more than you, but they at least might be able to check somewhere for you.

What if I sold something on eBay or Mercari or Depop or Etsy?


OK, sellers. I’m not 100% sure about all of the procedures on these platforms, but essentially, I’d suggest this:

Assure your customer it probably isn’t lost

Customers might get really annoyed and feel like the package is lost, but it most likely isn’t. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I’ve seen this status persist for a long time–like a week in some cases.

The best thing you can do is say that this is due to circumstances relating to the heavy volume at the Post Office (and you can provide COVID-19, the holidays, etc. as reasons) and that you are doing everything in your power to make sure things stay moving. You should also apologize for any inconvenience but also reassure them that the package will arrive.

You’ll have to figure out the exact wording, but the idea is that you are confident the package will arrive yet you acknowledge that the situation sucks. You want to sound professional but also human and sympathize with them.

Put off total refund as long as you can

First of all, I know you will feel like the bad guy in this situation, but really, it’s not really your fault.

It’s in your best interest to put off a total or even partial refund. It depends on your business model, of course, but I think that often the package ends up arriving. You can trust that the customer will pay again, but that just simply won’t always be the case.

I suggest literally apologizing all you can but not giving into the refund until you have to (like if you start losing cases with the platform or facing some sort of penalties).

I mean, after a certain amount of time, like 2 or 3 weeks, then maybe you just have to accept the package is lost or very, very late, and refunding is fine. If you go this route then I would include in your note to the buyer that you will refund them but if they get the package, then to respond to the invoice you send. Maybe you could deduct a percentage of the invoice as a means of sorry if you want to. Just ideas. This situation sucks for everyone, and it involves some level of understanding on both sides.


OK buyers, you just saw what sellers will probably do to you.

You should check the tracking often and monitor any changes. Sign up for text and e-mail alerts.

Establish some sort of timeframe where it’s reasonable to check in. It would probably stress the sender out to bother them too much, but I understand that you have to be some level of persistent to make sure you aren’t forgotten as well.

To be honest, the waiting technique and kind asking every now and then would do best.

And if a reasonable amount of time passes, then go through the available means through your platform.

If you receive the item, then I would pay the seller if they refunded you. It just feels like the right thing to do. You can try to ask for a discount if the time was ridiculous, perhaps.