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Air Freight: The Low-Down on Sky-High Shipments

With air freight, the clock is always ticking. Shippers look to cargo planes almost exclusively when they're in a rush. However, moving too fast and missing some critical details often results in extra fees or worse – a delayed shipment.

Take a look at our air freight tips to learn more about getting orders off the ground without a hitch.

When should you use air freight?

Putting a package on a plane is expensive, but can be a life-saver for you or your customers. Expedited ground services can usually meet many rush-order needs at a more economical price than air freight. But, we know there are times when shipments need to cover a lot of territory overnight or within a day – that's where air freight shines. For example, sometimes an event – such as a tradeshow – calls for last-minute shipping. Many times customers will pay extra to have their orders delivered as fast as possible. Whatever the reason, air freight can meet your needs.

Cargo and passenger air freight

Air freight forwarders put shipments on cargo and passenger planes, but shipment criteria differs based on the vessel. Airlines place restrictions on the types materials (hazardous chemicals, etc.) they'll put on passenger planes, so check with carriers before booking. Passenger planes store cargo below deck, reducing the vertical limits of materials by as much as half compared to cargo planes. Weight restrictions on passenger planes come from the occupancy rate of each flight, leading to more restrictions on weight limits or potential fees for exceeding limitations.

While it might easier to book your freight on cargo planes based on the weight and dimensions, these birds take to the skies less often than passenger flights. While an airline may send two or three passenger planes to major cities every day, there might only be one cargo flight. For those with truly unique requirements, some airlines offer partial or full cargo charter services.

The right way to book with airfreight forwarders

While it probably feels like things are moving fast for these shipments, there are two big things to look for when booking with carriers.

  • Book with as much notice as possible. Even though it's a rush on your end, air freight forwarders have set flight schedules and capacity already in motion. With ground shipments, you can get away with as little as a few hours of notice. But with air freight, your best bet is to notify the carrier the morning of your booking at a minimum and be specific about pickup locations. Typically, cargo flights head out in late afternoons or early evenings, giving you only a few hours to get packages prepped and out the door.
  • Nail down cargo details. Don't approximate or skip any of the details. This includes National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC), weight (including packaging and pallet), dimensions, pickup and dropoff locations (door-to-door, door-to-airport, etc.), limited access (residential or other areas requiring special maneuvering) and liftgate requirements to name a few. Any omissions or inaccuracies in the details lead to surcharges or delays that could make you miss delivery windows.

Packaging for takeoff

The good thing about readying shipments for the skies is that packaging and safety requirements are the same for air and ground (according to NMFC standards). However, shipment size requirements for planes differ from ground transportation. This may impact your pallet or packaging choices. It's best to check with the air freight forwarder for dimensional and weight requirements during the packaging and palletizing processes to be sure.

Don't let a little turbulence drag you down

With the pressure to get your shipment booked and moving, it might feel counter-intuitive to call a third party for help. But, rushing opens the door to costly oversights. A third-party logistics company (3PL) like Worldwide Express helps with expedited orders in several ways. Not only do we know NMFC standards by the back of our hand, our air freight forwarder network helps shippers like you find available expedited air services that fit your timeline and budget. We always prioritize air freight requests and help you focus on getting shipments ready while we work with the carrier on the booking.

If you're curious how a 3PL can make shipping worry-free, let's connect to discuss your operations.

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