Air Freight or Sea Freight – Which is best for my business?

Air Freight or Sea Freight – Which is best for my business?

Deciding on the best mode of transport for your import / export goods can often be a tricky, compromised decision. When it comes to air freight and sea freight, cost, speed and reliability all need to be considered in order to maximise profitability for your business.

We’ll take you through just some of the pros and cons of sea freight and air freight for you to decide which is best suited to your business.


Air Freight CostsCost

Sea freight is usually charged per container (20ft or 40ft) whereas air freight charges are calculated on ‘chargeable’ weight basis. Due to the limited space on the aircraft, the size of the goods have to be taken into consideration as well as cargo weight.

Generally to transport heavier, bulkier goods air freight is more expensive than sea freight. Over the past few years’ sea freight rates have dropped to record lows, widening the cost gap even further between the two modes of transport. But with smaller goods the price difference narrows and air freight becomes more attractive.


In fast paced commodity markets the speed of transport can be crucial to success. With time sensitive inter-continental consignments, air freight is often the fastest and most direct mode of transport. When importing products from China air freight can take less than 3 days to arrive in the UK but for a containership to transport the same cargo it can be up to 35 days depending on the specific routings.

Although the technological developments seen in shipping continues to improve transit times, the speed of air transport will always make this option more desirable for businesses with short delivery deadlines in fast moving consumer markets.



Often the reliability of transport can outweigh other factors such as cost and speed. When operations are reliant on the delivery of goods it becomes paramount that goods arrive on time and in good condition.

Air Freight is considered a less intrusive mode of transport with lower risk of damaging cargo when compared to sea freight transportation. Planes notoriously adhere to their schedules. Every minute spent on the tarmac, outside of scheduled take-off and landing, can accumulate an inordinate amount of extra costs. And with many airlines making 3-4 calls a day on certain routings if your cargo misses one flight chances are it can take the next just a few hours later. Shipping lines however suffer no extra cost penalties for late callings and so it is common for them to be way off planned schedules with 1-2 days delay.


The transparency with air freight is one of the main reasons why many companies prefer this mode of transport. Airlines and forwarding companies offer complete track and trace facilities that monitors the cargo from departure to arrival, whereas tracking containers specific location on the ocean is almost impossible until the vessel nears port. There are vessel tracking websites and devices that can track the vessel carrying your container, but you will need to obtain this information from your carrier directly.

What does it come down to?

One of the main considerations for any logistics manager is ultimately the bottom line and the difference in price between sea freight and air freight transport could be the determining factor in selecting the best shipping method for your business. It could be the difference between healthy profit margins and breaking even. As a global freight forwarder Tuscor Lloyds have worked with a multitude companies to improve their supply chain costs using the most efficient modes of transport.

If you need more information on air freight or sea freight services please contact our team:

Tel: +44 (0) 161 868 6000 Email: or visit our air freight and sea freight pages for more information.

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El 2020 es un año de muchos cambios, y la industria del comercio exterior no es la excepción, es por eso que, en esta ocasión, te mostramos de manera detallada los principales cambios del Incoterms durante este periodo.

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