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Air Freight Vs. Ocean Freight Shipping – What You Need To Know

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Air Freight Vs. Ocean Freight Shipping – What You Need To Know
Air Freight Vs. Ocean Freight Shipping – What You Need To Know

If you have cargo that you need to ship overseas, you may be wondering if air freight vs. ocean freight shipping is right for your freight. What’s the difference between the two, and what should you consider when making the choice between air freight and ocean freight shipping? Find out below. 

How Does Air Freight Shipping Work?

Air freight shipping works quite simply. Your freight is sent from your warehouse to the airport, usually by truck. Then, the airport workers load it into an airplane, which flies to the destination airport. After this, the cargo is unloaded. Typically, it will need to be picked up at the airport by a truck to be delivered to its final destination

Alternatively, your cargo may be held at the airport for a certain amount of time, but you must pay fees and other added costs for storing it, so it’s in your best interest to ship it from the airport to its final destination as quickly as you can. 

As you may expect, air freight shipping is usually one of the most efficient ways to send cargo to its destination, particularly if you need to send cargo to a very far-away international destination quickly. 

How Long Does Air Freight Shipping Take?

In most cases, it will take only 1-2 days for your air freight to arrive at its destination. Some air freight providers also offer rush shipping for an additional fee – you can get same-day delivery for your cargo if you’re willing to pay for it. This makes it much faster than ocean-going freight.

Because air freight is so much faster than ocean freight, it’s usually used for very high-value items or perishables that are not suitable for ocean transport. For example, it’s commonly used to send volatile medicine, delicate electronics, and other such types of freight that may not be suited to the more “rough and tumble” conditions of ocean freight – or may be more time-sensitive.

How Much Does Air Freight Shipping Cost?

Air freight is much more expensive than ocean shipping and truck-based shipping. Typical air freight shipping rates are around $1.50 to $4.50 per kg. This is about 4-5 times higher than road transport, and up to 12-16 times higher than ocean-going transport, so air freight shipping is usually limited to high-value, delicate, and time-sensitive items.

In addition, the volume of the goods you ship via air is not as important as their weight. In a cargo ship, for example, you will usually pay based on how many freight containers you use. If you need a single container, your goods would cost the same amount to ship whether they weighed 1,000 kg, or 10,000 kg. 

This is not the case with air freight. Fuel consumption and limits on airplane weight mean that the mass of your cargo is much more important. Because of this, extremely heavy items are rarely shipped using air freight, and are instead shipped by truck, or using ocean-going vessels.

How Does Ocean Freight Shipping Work?

Your cargo is picked up from your warehouse, usually by rail or truck, and sent to the port. From there, it’s loaded onto the ocean ship, which then travels to your destination port. When your cargo reaches the destination port, it’s unloaded and stored until it’s picked up and sent to its final destination. 

Depending on the type of freight you’re shipping, there can be some variations. In most cases, cargo is shipped in standardized 40-foot intermodal containers, which can be used to contain most types of freight. But some types of freight – such as cars – are sent using “RoRo” (roll-on, roll-off” vessels, which allow the vehicles to be driven on and off the vessel without the use of a cargo container.

How Long Does Ocean Freight Shipping Take?

Despite improvements in cargo routes, vessel efficiency, and total transit speed, ocean freight shipping still usually takes between 20-45 days. This time can vary depending on how far the vessel is going, the number of ports at which it will stop, the time of year, and other such factors. 

Because of this, ocean freight is not an ideal choice for shipments that are very time-sensitive or perishable. For these types of products, air freight is much more preferable, even if it is quite a bit more expensive.

Before shipping your goods overseas via ocean freight, it’s helpful to consult with multiple vessels and shipping companies to find the best balance of speed and price. Depending on the vessel you choose, you may be able to shave a few days – or even a week or more – off of the expected delivery time, so it pays to shop around. 

How Much Does Ocean Freight Shipping Cost?

The cost of FCL (Full Container Load) ocean freight shipping is usually between $1,200 to $2,100 per container you ship, but this can vary depending on your destination. LCL (Less than Container Load) shipments are not as easy to predict. They are charged by volume (per cubic meter) or by weight (per 1000kg). 

Full container load (FCL) shipping is exactly what it sounds like. You fill an entire 20 or 40-foot standardized intermodal container, and then send it to the destination via a cargo ship. If you are shipping bulk goods and need to send a lot of freight in multiple containers, this is the best option for you.
LCL (less than container load) shipping is a more economical alternative if you are not shipping enough goods to require a full cargo container. In this method of shipping, your cargo will be loaded into a cargo container along with the cargo of one or more other freight customers. 

Typically, each customer will pay for the amount of space they use. You will usually be charged per cubic metre (CBM). However, if you are shipping very dense goods, the freight company may charge a rate based on each 1000kg (metric ton) that your shipment weighs. 

What’s Better For My Freight? Air Freight Shipping Or Ocean Freight Shipping?

Air freight shipping is better for low-volume shipping of light, time-sensitive, and valuable items. It’s very expensive, but it is – by far – the fastest way to send your freight. But if you want to save money, ocean freight shipping is a much better option if you are not shipping time-sensitive goods. 

Because both ocean transport and air transport have their own unique benefits, most companies make use of both methods of freight shipping – and it’s a good idea for you to do the same. Consider the pros and cons of each method carefully before making your decision. 

Need To Ship Goods Via Air Or Ocean Transport? A-1 Auto Transport Is Here To Help! 


At A-1 Auto Transport, our network of logistics partners can help arrange the shipment of your goods by air, by ocean, or even by truck and rail. No matter what your freight shipping needs may be, we’re here to help.

Joe Webster
Written By:Joe Webster
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Joe Webster began his journey in the auto transport field by attending the University of Southern California (USC), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Marketing. 

After college, he started his career in the auto transport industry from the bottom up and has done virtually every job there is to do at A-1 Auto Transport, including but not limited to: Truck Driver, Dispatch, Sales, PR, Bookkeeping, Transport Planner, Transport Manager, International Transport Manager, Brokering, Customer Service, and Marketing. Working with his mentor Tony Taylor, Joe Webster has learned the ins and outs of this industry which is largely misunderstood. 

With over 30 years experience in the industry, we've been helping people ship their vehicles, motorcycles, RV's, heavy equipment, household goods and more across the country or overseas without a hitch. Ask us anything.

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A-1 Auto Transport is a disclosed agent for the following shipping companies:

Trans Global Auto Logistics, Inc.
3401 E Randol Mill Rd
Arlington, TX 76011
NO. 018191NF
CFR Rinkens
15501 Texaco Avenue
Paramount, CA 90723
NO. 013055NF
ABC Worldwide LLC
2840 NW 2nd Ave #105
Boca Raton, FL 33431
NO. 025472F
CSI Logistics
435 Division Street
Elizabeth, NJ 07201
FMC 22206
Intl Cargo
45 Campus drive
Edison, NJ 08837
NO. 17858N
ShipYourCarNow LLC
1160 South Rogers Circle Suite 1
Boca Raton, FL 33487
NO. 025646
Merco Air & Ocean Cargo, Inc.
6 Fir Way
Cooper City, FL 33026
NO. 021869F
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