Can you mail a paper airplane with a regular stamp?

Will a paper airplane with a 58-cent forever stamp be delivered by the Post Office? Just straight-up—a paper airplane, no envelope. The address is written right on the paper airplane. The stamp is affixed to the corner of the airplane. I used a slightly thicker stock of paper, because I don’t imagine the Post Office would mail just a flimsy sheet of paper.

Bat-style paper airplane with a postage stamp and address being held up in front of a mailbox by the Glen Ellyn Public Library.
(Watch a video of this paper airplane being thrown into a mailbox)

The proper postage to mail a paper airplane

The shape of the paper airplane is unusual, so maybe I should have used extra postage. The Post Office says, “Odd-shaped items that are properly wrapped within paper envelopes and sent at letter prices may be subject to the nonmachinable surcharge”

In 2010, USPS released a stamp just for this.

Butterfly 64-cent nonmachinable surcharge stamp.

The new 64-cent Butterfly stamp… is designed for use on cards that have an irregular shape requiring additional postage.

USPS requires extra postage, called a “non-machinable surcharge,” on First-Class Mail letters when an envelope:

• Is square or doesn’t meet aspect ratio.
• Is rigid and doesn’t easily bend.
• Contains items that create an uneven mailpiece.
• Has an address that is parallel to the shorter dimension of the letter (vertical setup).

Butterfly stamp will simplify postage for irregular-shaped greeting cards

These non-machinable stamps now cost 88 cents each. The only style available is a purple butterfly (a Colorado Hairstreak).

88-cent non-machinable surcharge stamp with purple butterfly

A butterfly stamp to mail paper airplanes would be rather poetic. Butterflies have paper-thin wings that are akin to a paper airplane. Butterflies float through the air like paper airplanes.

However, there’s something rogue about using a standard stamp to mail something unusual. Plus, the selection is much more comprehensive for standard forever stamps. I used Hot Wheels (for the speed) and Pluto stamps (for the notion of travel).

Two bat-style paper airplanes. Each paper airplane has a Pluto postage stamp affixed. Mailing addresses written on the bat.

Throwing the paper airplane into a mailbox

It’s a lot of fun trying to throw a paper airplane into a mailbox. Make sure to bring a long painter’s tape to hold the door open. You could use duct tape, but the painter’s tape is more gentle. Remember, this mailbox is government property. You don’t want to mess around with that.

Once you have the door taped open. Stand back about six feet, and try to throw the paper airplane into the slot. The target site of the slot is not super small. But it’s not exactly that big either. Thus the mail slot is just the right challenge.

I love painter’s tape. You can use it for so many things. Holding a mailbox door open is now one of its many functions.

Traditional dart-style paper airplane vs bat design

For this mailing, I used the bat design for the paper airplane. Perhaps a traditional dart-style paper airplane would have been easier to throw into the slot. But I’m not sure how well those would mail. The dart-style is so long and skinny. The bat design lends itself to going through the mail better. It’s flatter and has a bit more of a rectangle shape. However, the bat design isn’t that great for flying to a specific target, because it tends to swoop around a lot. As you can see in this two-minute video, it took me four tries.

Try this out! See how many tries it takes you to throw a paper airplane into the mailbox. Can you do better than my four attempts?

This wasn’t my first time trying to mail a paper airplane. In 2011 I mailed a paper airplane to my brother from a mailbox in Chicago.

The video recently came to my attention as it got its first comment in 11 years. Heh. Only 11 years to get the first comment. Better later than never! Plus, it inspired me to try mailing paper airplanes again.

National Paper Airplane Day

A few days after mailing these paper airplanes, I find out that it’s National Paper Airplane Day! (On May 26th each year). Perhaps these paper airplanes will arrive at their destinations right on this day! And we’ll find out if the paper airplanes actually get delivered with the basic postage of a 58-cent forever stamp.

After doing this one paper airplane, I did two more with my kids. They absolutely loved it. Before mailing the airplanes, we took them to the parking lot across the street to fly them around. It’s a commuter parking lot for the train. Since the pandemic, it’s never really used anymore. Thus, making it a great open area to test the paper airplanes! Then we brought them back to the mailbox and flew them into the mailbox slot.

The results

I have gotten word that two of the paper airplanes have arrived. The Post Office flattened it and printed the cancellation and barcode over the gutter.

Paper airplane with Post Office cancellation over the stamp.

Give it a try! Mail your own paper airplane to someone!

I would be honored if you mailed me a paper airplane. 🙂

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Leigh Hanlon
1 year ago

A number of years ago, a network of photographer friends and I would exchange Polaroid photos by putting two first-class stamps on the front and using the white space at the bottom for the address. Occasionally, I’d place a label sticker on the back and write a message there. All of these Polaroids went through. I haven’t tried this lately.

Mike Maddaloni
1 year ago

When I first started reading this I would have figured that USPS would have put the airplane in a polybag and returned it to you – I have had “damaged” mail delivered to me that way. Glad to hear it went through!


Last edited 1 year ago by Mike Maddaloni
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