Air Freight vs Sea Freight: How to Choose

When you’re importing goods internationally, you have to decide whether air freight or sea freight will be the right option for you. There are many factors to take into consideration when choosing the best shipping option.

You’ll need to consider the size and weight of the goods, type of goods, and the country you’re shipping from to make a good choice.

Arriving at the ideal shipment choice can take some time. You need to strategically think before deciding the best option as making the right choice can result in increased efficiency and saving cost.

Let us understand what air freight and sea freight are and how to choose between them.

What is Air Freight?

Air freight is transporting goods by air. When you’re importing goods from an international supplier by air, your goods will be shipped on an airplane to your destination. Air freight is usually much faster than sea freight and more suitable if you need shorter delivery times. On the other hand, air freight tends to be more expensive than shipping by the sea.

Benefits of Air Freight

  • Fast and reliable international shipments
  • Low insurance premiums
  • Higher security and reduced risk of damages
  • Ability to track goods in transit
  • Ability to receive goods from anywhere in the world

Goods that are expensive and smaller in size are usually shipped via air. Since air freight is reliable and fast, the buyer benefits from using it for high-value shipments.

What is Sea Freight?

Sea freight or ocean freight is transporting goods by the sea. As a buyer, you should work with a freight forwarder or third-party logistics provider when importing goods via cargo ships.

Sea freight is ideally suited for importing large packages and when shipping times are not a major concern. You can ship a large number of goods for relatively cheaper prices by shipping via sea.

Benefits of Sea Freight

  • Suitable for large shipments internationally
  • More affordable than air freight for medium and large quantities
  • Ideal for shipping bulk or high-volume orders

When you need to import a large shipment and do not have time constrain, shipping by sea is the better choice for you. By working with a freight forwarder or third-party logistics company, you can ensure smooth operations when importing internationally.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Air Freight vs Sea Freight

Air Freight vs Sea Freight

There are tradeoffs to consider when choosing between air freight and sea freight. Depending on the factors that are most important to you, your ideal choice of shipment can vary.

Here are the four main factors to consider when choosing your shipment mode.

1. Speed

If you want faster shipment times and do not want to wait for weeks or months for your shipment to arrive, you’re better off going for air freight. You will get your shipments a lot faster when you ship them via air You will receive your goods in one to two days for most international shipments in comparison to weeks/months taken by sea freight.

However, you have to understand that it can be very expensive to ship large packages by air. Only if it is absolutely necessary, choose to ship large packages by air. Otherwise, air shipments work best for small packages.

2. Cost

Sea freight is much cheaper than air freight in most cases. Since shipments are billed by container, there is a flat fee per full standard container (20’ x 40’) which makes sea shipments ideal for shipping large packages.

Meanwhile, air freight uses chargeable weight as a metric for billing. Chargeable weight is calculated by combining the weight and size of the shipment.

When you’re using sea freight, it makes sense to make use of a third-party logistics company if you’re new to international imports. There are inventory costs, warehousing fees, etc., that will be handled efficiently by a good third-party logistics provider.

3. Reliability

Air freight is more reliable than sea freight. There are a lot of factors that can reduce the speed of sea freight and disrupt normal operations. It takes a lot of time for sea carriers to realign and resume smooth operations.

Meanwhile, even though airplanes are delayed due to weather conditions, there are usually a lot of airplanes operating regularly between major cities around the world that rescheduling air freight is a lot easier and the slight delays that can happen are usually not noticed.

4. Environmental Concerns

The growing concerns for reducing carbon emissions and taking more responsibility for caring for the planet have made a lot of importers prefer sea freight over air freight. CO2 emissions are much lower in ocean freight than air freight. Importers can leave a much smaller carbon footprint by opting for shipments by the sea.

However, the environmental concerns due to oil spills on water bodies hold back sea freight from being the ideal solution for lesser environmental impact.

As an importer, it is important to understand the factors that matter the most to you when shipping goods. By understanding your requirements, you can choose the best shipping mode for international shipments.

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