News and press releases

  • Royal Mail
    12 November 2012
    Royal Mail announces last recommended airmail posting dates for Christmas

Royal Mail today announced the last recommended posting dates for customers sending Christmas cards and gifts by airmail.

Wednesday 5 December is the latest recommended date for addresses in Asia, the Far East (including Japan), Australia and New Zealand.

Customers sending cards and gifts to destinations in South & Central America, the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East are advised to send these items by Friday 7 December.

The latest recommended date for Eastern Europe, the USA and Canada is Monday 10 December. For destinations in Western Europe the latest date for airmail cards and gifts is Wednesday 12 December.

The world’s first scheduled service for transporting mail by air took place in the United Kingdom on September 9, 1911. It celebrated the coronation of King George V, and saw cards and letters transported by air between Hendon in North London and Windsor in Berkshire. However, the UK’s first overseas airmail service began in 1918, and was a joint venture between the Royal Air Force and the British Army Post office. The route operated between Folkestone and Cologne.

By the early 1930s dedicated airmail post boxes were painted Air Force blue to set them apart from standard red post boxes. By 1936 there were 139 of these blue post boxes in London and 174 in other parts of the country. After World War II ended and airmail services were restarted, these blue post boxes were decommissioned as airmail could be posted from anywhere in the UK.

Today customers can send airmail items from around 11,000 Post Office branches and over 115,000 post boxes, to destinations all over the world.

An ‘airmail etiquette’ is the name given to the label used to indicate a letter for airmail. The term etiquette comes from a combination of the French meaning ‘label, sticker’ and the English translation ‘rules of behaviour’. Etiquettes are instructions for postal workers, so have no monetary value. An airmail etiquette does not need to be included if airmail stamps are used on the letter. In the UK customers can write “PAR AVION – BY AIR MAIL” on their envelope in place of the etiquette.

Royal Mail advises customers to post airmail items as early as possible to assist foreign postal services to cope with the large increase in mail volumes to destinations worldwide at Christmas.

In addition to noting the last recommended posting dates for airmail items, customers are also reminded to check the correct airmail postage rates before sending their cards and letters to ensure that all greetings arrive in good time for Christmas.

Full details of Royal Mail’s airmail services, including prices, can be found at


Sally Hopkins
Royal Mail press office
Tel: 020 7250 2468
Mob: 07801 094345


Notes to Editors

  • On 14 June 1919, British airmen John Alcock and Arthur Whitten-Brown completed the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. They carried with them 196 letters and one letter packet, becoming the first transatlantic airmail service in the process.
  • The first public overseas airmail service began on 11 November 1919, flying between London and Paris. This service was eventually extended to Holland, Belgium and Morocco the following year.
  • With the formation of Imperial Airways in 1924, a number of regular European airmail routes were established, with international destinations including Delhi, Cape Town and Singapore being served in the years that followed. In 1934, a number of dedicated inland airmail services were set up, flying between major population areas like London, Manchester, Belfast and Glasgow.
  • The first official airmail route, between the UK, Australia and New Zealand, an experimental service, took place in April 1931. It set off from Croydon in London on 4 April, finally arriving in Darwin on 25 April. The airmail service continued on to Melbourne via Sydney, with mail destined New Zealand being transported the final leg of the journey by boat, arriving 31 days after leaving London.
  • A return route began on 17 April, with New Zealand mail being transported to Australia by boat before joining the airmail service leaving Melbourne on 23 April for the journey back to the UK. It took a total of 27 days.
  • Finally, on 8 December 1934, a regular London to Brisbane service began. The journey of 12,700 miles was the world’s longest air route and took around 12 days.
  • In 1937 the UK Government agreed a deal with Imperial Airways to support the introduction of the Empire Air Mail Scheme, formalising airmail delivery and expanding the international destinations it serviced.
  • By the early 1930s dedicated airmail post boxes were painted Air Force blue to set them apart from standard red post boxes and were serviced by a dedicated fleet of blue vehicles. By 1936 there were 139 of these blue post boxes in London and 174 in the provinces. After World War II ended and airmail services were restarted these blue post boxes and vehicles were decommissioned as airmail could then be sent from anywhere in the UK.
  • Airmail services from the UK were suspended at the outbreak of World War II. They restarted once the war was over, with more international destinations appearing in the years that followed.
  • Today the Royal Mail international centre at London Heathrow acts as the primary hub for international airmail services, with support from a location in Gatwick.
  • Information and images courtesy of the British Postal Museum and Archive, Freeling House, Phoenix Place, LONDON WC1X 0DL. Tel: 020 7239 2570