Even though the difference between sea freight and air freight may seem obvious to some, it is crucial to weigh up the key parameters, such as speed, costs, and safety to make the right choice for your load. At Eurosender, we have prepared a comparison of air cargo and sea freight advantages and disadvantages to help you find a balanced solution for your shipping needs.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
Delivery times are one of the main differences between sea freight and air freight shipping. When comparing sea freight to air freight shipments, senders always imagine that goods transported by air usually take a few days to arrive, while with ocean freight, it can be a matter of weeks. However, it is not always true.
As a rule, only express air shipments offer the shortest delivery time. Air freight is usually delivered within 8 hours – 7 days, depending on the pickup and destination countries. Consolidated air cargo can in some cases take up to 2 weeks.
Even though in practice, air freight is always faster than ocean freight, multiple sea carriers currently offer high-priority LCL solutions, also called Expedited LCL, with shorter delivery times. They can sometimes compete with air cargo in terms of delivery speed but are still much more affordable than shipping by air.
Businesses tend to choose air freight when shipping perishable goods – fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, fresh flowers, etc. Air cargo is also an obvious winner for emergency shipping when medical equipment or other time-critical products need to be delivered as soon as possible.
When doing the comparison of air cargo and sea freight, the decision as to the optimal shipping method should always be made case by case, depending on the time sensitivity of the shipment.
The difference between sea freight and air freight shipping costs is significant. Air freight is usually 10-15 times more expensive than ocean freight.
The cost calculation method is also different. With air freight, the shipment is charged by weight (volumetric or gross), whereas with ocean freight, the shipper pays for the volume occupied by his load.
Both shipping methods can imply additional charges, but they are more recurrent with sea freight. Such charges include but are not limited to inspection, demurrage, detention, storage costs, origin, and destination handling fees, etc. Storage costs for ocean shipments are much higher than those incurred by air cargo.
The difference between sea freight and air freight in terms of sustainability is essential. Cargo aircraft leave the largest carbon dioxide emissions and thus highly contribute to global warming. The carbon footprint of sea freight shipment of the same weight on the same distance is 44 times smaller than that of an air freight shipment. Aircraft emit between 500 and 560 grams of CO2 per metric ton of freight, while the same indicator for cargo ships stands at 3 grams per metric ton.
DUTIES AND VAT
Customs duties, taxes, and local fees will be paid in both cases, but with air freight, the total VAT and duty to pay will be higher than with ocean freight. Whether the exporter chooses sea freight or air freight, the goods will need to undergo customs clearance.
Export clearance will be required before the cargo leaves the origin airport/port, while import clearance will be the obligatory condition for releasing the shipment. With sea freight, the clearance procedure might take longer than with air freight shipments. Port holdups may also increase the overall transit time.
Air cargo capacities differ depending on the type of aircraft. With certain aircraft, the consolidated volume of air freight shipments may reach up to 500-600m3, whereas the capacity of smaller commercial aircraft ranges between 21 and 97m3. Acceptable weight can also vary between 13 tons and 95 tons.
Ocean freight load capacity depends on the container type. The approximate capacity of a 20’ container is 33 cubic metres, and that of a 40’ container ranges between 67 and 76 cubic metres. The weight per cubic metre should not exceed 1 ton (1000 kg). Weight allowance might differ from one container to another.
Considering the above, ocean freight shipping is more suitable for bigger loads and heavier shipments than air freight. Sea freight imposes fewer restrictions on products that can be accepted for transportation, which is an important asset for numerous exporters.
When choosing between sea freight or air freight, one must understand that with both shipping methods, multiple options are possible depending on the type, size, urgency, and other characteristics of the load. Take a look at the rundown of the main types of sea freight and air freight shipping options:
Air freight is generally considered as the safest transport option given stricter regulations imposed by airlines and rigorous security checks at the airports. Both transportation methods are safe, even though ocean freight implies more handling and warehousing. More handling may sometimes translate into higher risks of damage, even though either with sea freight or with air freight, proper packaging is key to successful delivery.
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