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Air Freight vs Sea Freight

An airplane and cargo ships to represent the debate between air freight and sea freight
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Updated on 15 Jun 20228 min read

The freight industry is a big and important word, contributing greatly to a country's economy and one of the main factors in keeping businesses running worldwide. Freight transport can be divided into many different categories, but there are two major methods of freight transportation: air freight and sea freight.

As international shipping becomes increasingly more common due to online shopping platforms like Amazon and Alibaba, as well as shifting consumer habits (e.g., moving towards greener modes of transportation), these two methods are becoming even more prominent in our everyday lives, whether we know it or not.

In this article, we will analyze these two types of freight transportation to find out which is best for your needs based on cost, speed, security concerns, and other factors.

What is the Difference Between Air Freight and Sea Freight?

Air Freight

Air freight is an excellent choice when you need to move a small shipment fast, or if your cargo needs to arrive at its destination quickly. It's also a definitive alternative for those who are concerned about the environment and want to reduce their carbon footprint.

While air freight is more expensive than sea freight, it's often worth the investment if you're dealing with urgent shipments of small quantities of goods (e.g., a few hundred kilograms). However, if your shipment includes large items, such as furniture or building materials, then sea freight may be the more satisfactory option for your business.

Sea Freight

Sea freight is the best alternative for large loads, also known as Ocean freight. The price of sea freight is higher than air freight, but it's still much cheaper than land shipping or trucking, especially when hauling goods over long distances.

The speed of sea freight is slower than air freight. If you need your freight to reach its destination quickly, this could be a problem. But if time is not of the essence for your shipment, then ocean freight is a viable option.

There are also two modes of shipping associated with sea freight, namely less than container load (LCL) and full container load (FCL). LCL is best for smaller cargo because shipments are consolidated into one container. On the other hand, FCL is for larger or oversized shipments where the shipper consigns an entire shipping container for his goods.

If you’re looking for a faster way to ship cargo by sea, FCL is the better option. But of course, it costs more than LCL because the shipper will have to shoulder the cost for the entire container instead of sharing it with other sellers.

Sea freight is also more environmentally friendly than other types of shipping because it uses fewer resources, including fuel and electricity that would otherwise have been used by trucks or trains carrying goods over long distances

Which is Better: Air Freight or Sea Freight?

woman wondering which is better, air freight or sea freight

When it comes to shipping, sea freight is the best option for large shipments. Air freight is a better choice for smaller, more urgent shipments. Sea freight is more affordable than air freight and takes less time to reach its destination, but it's also slower, less secure, and less adaptable in terms of scheduling changes.

Ultimately, which mode of shipment you should choose would depend greatly on your needs, priorities, as well as the specific technicalities of your shipment.

When Should I Choose Air Freight?

Air freight is a good option if you are shipping small quantities of goods that don’t weigh too much. It’s especially beneficial if you are in a rush and want your cargo to arrive at the airport of destination in a matter of days. Furthermore, if the cost is not an issue for you, then this shipping option would definitely be the right choice for your shipment.

When Should I Choose Sea Freight?

Sea freight, on the other hand, is the right option for you if you need to ship large, heavy, bulky, oversized cargo. This is because there are fewer weight and size restrictions in sea freight and there’s a full container load option that allows you to ship as many or as large as you need.

Sea freight is also the best choice if you prioritize saving money on your shipping needs. It allows you to ship more while spending less compared to air freight. The only con is its long transit time. But if you are not in a rush to get your cargo to its destination, then you should encounter no problem with ocean shipping.

Things To Consider When Choosing A Freight Type

Not sure which type of shipping service is right for you? In this section, we’ll discuss the option most suited to your needs. Here are some things you need to consider to help you make the right decision:

Where are You Shipping To?

Some courier services are door-to-door, collected from your address by a trusted company, and delivered directly to homes and businesses worldwide. Air freight services are airport-to-airport or door-to-airport, with some cargo needing to be picked up at the airport of destination.

Likewise, sea freight services have seaport-to-seaport movement types and follow the same flow as air freight. From picking up to delivery using sea carriers. There are also door-to-port and door-to-door movement types you can avail of.

Weight of Shipment

Depending on the courier services, usually, a single parcel is limited to 70kg and palletized goods to 100kg. You can sea freight for heavy shipments as there are fewer weight limitations. On the other hand, air freight would have set weight and size limits, so it may not be a good choice if you’re shipping bulky, oversized, and heavy cargo.

When computing the weight of your parcel, ask your chosen courier for its policy. This is because there are companies that measure the weight of the packaging and the contents as one, while some companies only compute for the contents and do not include the packaging.

Delivery Time

A parcel courier is usually the speediest, most timely option. For weighty or bulk shipments, select air freight for express services. Air freight takes only days and flights depart frequently while sea freight can take several weeks.

This concept is the same when you are traveling. By air is the fastest because there are no obstructions, except if there are layovers or plane transfers. However, weather conditions can delay air freight shipment speeds.

What is the Transit Time Difference Between Air Freight and Sea Freight?

The transit time difference between air freight and sea freight is actually significantly long. While we cannot give you an exact figure because the duration of your shipment will depend on a variety of factors, it usually takes hours to days for air freight shipments to complete and weeks to months for sea freight.

Some factors that affect transit time include the distance between your origin and destination, weather conditions, the route of the plane or ship, and more.

Service Cost

For parcels, a courier service is usually the cheapest option. For pallets, couriers may still be cheaper depending on the weight and destination.

However, sea freight is a good economic option for large and heavy shipments. It goes by a flat rate, which makes it generally cost-effective the more prominent the weight, though handling costs may apply.

What is the Cost Difference Between Sea Freight and Air Freight?

The cost difference is also dependent on a variety of factors, such as the value of your goods, customs and duties, taxes, and other fees. However, it is significantly more cost-efficient to ship your goods via sea freight, specifically, LCL if you are not in a rush for the cargo to arrive at your destination. Air freight can get very expensive, depending on the volume and dimensions of your shipment.

Environmental Impact

Carbon footprint is essential to know, especially when looking for a freight company. This is because carbon footprint greatly affects the health of the world and if you choose a company that has a big carbon footprint, you’re contributing to damaging the environment.

Shipping by air can help you reduce environmental impact since it is more friendly compared to sea freight. So if environmental friendliness is a concern for you, then air freight is your best bet.

Bottom Line

warehouse workers

There you have it! Here are the things you need to keep in mind when choosing between air freight and sea freight. They are both economical and consumer-wise, but everything depends on the type of shipment you apply, the weight of your parcel, your budget, and how fast you want your parcel to be delivered.

These freights are both essential in making your goods travel from one place to their destination. Some companies also offer insurance to ensure the safety of your cargo. You can grab these types of features but expect that the more options you acquire, the higher the cost will be.

Ultimately, the best option (whether air freight or sea freight) depends largely on your preferences and needs. To help you make the best decisions for your shipment, we recommend that you sit down with yourself and determine your priorities. But with the information we provided on air freight and sea freight, you are on the right track to choosing the best shipping option.

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