MIAMI -- If Cupid were to have a home, it would be Miami International Airport.
Before millions of Americans can present their loved ones with a bouquet of Valentine's Day roses, most of the flowers are flown from Colombia and Ecuador to Miami, many in the bellies of passenger planes. There, cargo handlers and customs agents -- call them Cupid's helpers -- ensure that the deep red petals stay perfect until they reach their final destination.
In the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, about 738 million flowers -- 85 percent of imported flowers -- come through the Florida airport. Los Angeles is a distant second, with 44 million. The roses, carnations, hydrangeas, sunflowers and other varieties are rushed by forklift from planes to chilled warehouses and then onto refrigerated trucks or other planes and eventually delivered to florists, gas stations and grocery stores across the country.
"We always joke that a passenger gets themselves to the next flight while a bit of cargo does not," says Jim Butler, president of cargo operations at American Airlines.
Cargo is a small, but increasingly important part of U.S. airlines' business. New jets are built with more freight space and the airlines are adding new nonstop international routes popular with shippers.
Valentine's Day is a big day for flowers, topped only by Mother's Day, and cargo teams work extra hours ahead of both to ensure on-time deliveries.