Air Freight vs. Ocean Freight: Which One Is Better?

Posted by Benjamin Meskin on Jun 12, 2019 8:31:36 AM
Benjamin Meskin


Businesses that manufacture and sell large items must use freight transport to move their products across the world.


This type of transport is not the standard ground transport for local shipments. These items are quite large and may only be eligible to use air freight shipping or ocean freight shipping to transport the items.


However, if you are in this line of business, which is a better option for you: sea freight or air freight?


The Sea vs. Air Freight Dilemma



The reality is there is a concrete reason to utilize air freight vs. ocean freight.


Aside from cost factors, environmental impact, speed, safety, and overall risks, certain items will only be eligible to be transported through ocean shipment, while others may qualify for shipping by air.


If the freight shipments are only eligible for shipment on an ocean carrier, you will find your answer to the questions of air freight vs. ocean freight.


Here are some issues that will eliminate the choice for sea vs. air freight:

  • Anything with gasses (such as lamp bulbs)
  • Flammable objects
  • Toxic and/or corrosive items
  • Magnetic objects and substances
  • Public Health Risks
  • Oxidizers and biochemical products
  • Items with a danger sign on the package


These items would only be eligible for ocean freight transport as they would not pass TSA requirements to get onto a plane.


When making a decision of whether to choose air freight or ocean freight, make sure your shipment is eligible to consider air freight shipping.


Sea vs. Air Freight Costs



To understand the difference between the cost to ship via ocean or air, we must examine the chargeable weight involved in the freight shipping process.


Chargeable weight is an interesting concept. It is the higher value of the actual weight of a shipment and the volume weight of a shipment. Here is a breakdown of how this works:


When choosing to ship, you must crate these items. Each crate will be a full load or a less than container load. The maximum weight for a container is around 28,000 kg.


Therefore, a-less-than-full-container-crate can reach the maximum weight for the container, depending on the weight of each individual item.


The volume weight is a calculation for the volume of the container using the standard of 167kg/cubic meter (for ocean) or 200kg/cubic meter (for air).


Based on this calculation, you may find a discrepancy between the actual weight of the shipment and the volume weight. The chargeable weight would be the higher of the two.


Based on this calculation alone, the ocean shipment would have a smaller chargeable weight than the air shipment of the same product. Therefore, ocean carriers for freight transport would be less costly and have a lower freight rate than air carriers.


Sea vs. Air Freight: Transit Times



As discussed, ocean freight shipments are more cost-effective for the business shipping the objects. However, if a product needs to be shipped in a timelier manner, air freight shipments are the answer.


Traveling by air is exponentially faster than traveling by sea. Airplanes can travel in excess of thousands of miles per hour. As a matter of fact, the World Book Encyclopedia suggests an airplane can travel at a speed of 420-800 miles per hour.


In contrast, an ocean freight carrier can travel at a maximum speed of 29.4 miles per hour. A shipment traveling by air freight versus ocean freight will get to its destination in hours versus days or even weeks.


Sea vs. Air Freight: Environmental Impact



The environment is fragile. Freight and air freight shipping, more importantly, can play a large role in causing damage to the environment.


The issue is related to co2 emissions (our carbon footprint). As a mode of transportation, airplanes release more carbon into the atmosphere than ships. While ships can leave a carbon footprint, it is much smaller than that of planes.


Gasoline used to power planes, alone, is one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions and an effect on the environment. Therefore, if the environment is the most important issue when determining whether to use air freight vs. ocean freight, ocean freight wins this competition.


Sea vs. Air Freight: Safety and Reliability


While ocean freight carriers are better for the environment, air freight carriers are typically better for security and reliability. Due to the speed in which an air freight carrier can reach its destination, there are less risks of damage, theft, and property loss.


Companies involved in the air freight shipment process can even ask their employees to carry objects to the proper gates to be shipped and then sign off on who received the package to complete the process of getting the shipment on the plane.


With ships, this process is not as streamlined and often involves several handlers at many different points of the transfer. In addition, ships can capsize, experience rough waters causing extreme damage to packages, and even face higher risks of theft in certain parts of the water.


If the shipment is extremely valuable or viewed as valuable in different parts of the world, it may be best to trust the security of air freight carriers.


Air Freight vs. Ocean Freight: Which Is Best?


When determining the answer to air freight vs. ocean freight, which is best, the answer is, “it depends.” When working with people involved in supply chains, there are several factors that companies care most about when shipping. The factors that are most important include cost, speed, environmental impact, safety and reliability as the five major deciding factors.


First, the shipment must be approved for air travel in order to even be included in this discussion. If the product is on the list mentioned above, it must be shipped via ocean carrier.


However, if the shipment is eligible for air shipment, the shipper must decide if there is a rush to the order, which would mean that air shipment is the best option.


If the shipment is considered highly valuable, air shipment will also be the best option. However, if cost or environmental impact are more important than speed and safety or reliability, then ocean shipping would be the best option.


No matter which type of freight shipping, sea or air freight shipping, Cabrella provides comprehensive insurance coverage to help protect your shipment and give you and your clients peace of mind with your large cargo shipments.


Cabrella Get a Quote


Tags: #internationalshipping, Shipping Insurance

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