Air freight or sea freight? Which is the better option?


Whether you are importing or exporting goods internationally one of the big questions that you will invariably ask yourself is whether to ship your freight via air or sea. There are benefits for both forms of transportation and ultimately the decision on how to move your freight will depend upon what it is that you are transporting.



If time is of the essence then air freight provides a quicker alternative to sea freight, with average transit times of a couple of days compared to sea freight shipment times in excess of 1 week. Air cargo operators often provide daily flight schedules whereas sea cargo shipping schedules tend to operate on a weekly basis. The sea freight schedules require you to pre plan your shipments in order to avoid missing cut off points for loading, airfreight services depart virtually daily which allows a greater degree of flexibility.

‘Slow steaming,’ where shipping companies deliberately slow down their fleet in order to save money on fuel costs has led to an increase in the time taken for shipments to arrive at their ports of call. This shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a bad thing though as whilst goods are in transit there is no need to pay storage costs such as warehouse charges.

Shipping speeds also look set to improve in the future thanks to developments with industry vessel sharing agreements where shipping companies are working together to operate routes, expansion projects on canals and improved technology all playing their part.



As with all business decisions cost will clearly have an impact on your decision making. It’s often thought that air freight is much more expensive than sea freight, however in reality this is not always the case.

Charges for air and sea freight are calculated differently and in understanding how these costs are calculated it is possible to make an informed decision on shipping methods.

Generally speaking, large scale shipments or bulky, awkward shaped shipments are usually cheaper being sent by sea, whereas, including handling and other charges, very often air freight is cheaper for weights up to 100kgs, and even up to 200kgs for some destinations.


Making a Choice

So it’s clear there is no preferred option when it comes to choosing whether to use sea or air freight but that it all depends on the items that you are shipping and the urgency of these items getting to their final destination. The speed and reliability of delivery needs to be considered alongside the need to maximize your profit margins.

If you are exporting perishable goods such as fresh produce you’ll undoubtedly opt to utilise an air freight channel, whereas less urgent items, particularly bulky items and large amounts of stock are probably best sent by sea.

What is certain is that an experienced freight forwarder will be able to advise the best fit for your business model and will be able to oversee the transportation of your items from origin to destination, providing a wealth of knowledge throughout the process.


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