Client Portal Login

Please Login to use Client Portal


Become an Agent

The "American Dream" Program

Credit application

Apply now!

Air vs Ocean – 6 Factors to Consider When Shipping Internationally

Feb 28, 2018

Are you shipping freight internationally? If so, there are two main options: Air and Ocean. How do these different modes of freight transportation compare? Below are six factors to consider when selecting the best one for your shipment.

Air vs Ocean comparison.jpgCost

Cost is always an important business consideration, but obviously, not the only one. Air is typically more costly than ocean with few exceptions. Airlines bill by what is called “chargeable weight”, which is very similar to dimensional weight as discussed in this article. Ocean carriers, by contrast, usually charge based on size of shipment as opposed to weight. For this reason, larger and heavier shipments tend to be more economical when sent by ocean.


There is no doubt about the fact that airplanes move more quickly than ships. This is not the issue here. What you want to consider when selecting between air and ocean freight is what exactly you are moving and how critical the timing of transit is for the particular type of shipment. If you are shipping something perishable like flowers, air is an obvious choice. When shipping something very heavy, that doesn’t have a shelf life, or a deadline, ocean may be the better choice. Air freight transit time is often only a day or two, where ocean cargo may take up to a month depending on starting point, destination, route, and more. 


Many people don’t think about limitations when comparing international freight options. Ships have significantly more capacity than airplanes. In fact, this is a contributing factor in the cost of air freight. Due to limited capacity, air freight is more costly than a comparably sized shipment on a ship. That being said, ships are able to accommodate substantially larger loads and types of shipments, such as vehicles and heavy equipment. Aircraft simply aren’t able to accept many of these sizeable items as cargo due to space and weight limitations. Not only that, there are many restrictions on what materials are allowed to travel via air. Hazardous Materials, for example, cannot be transported in a plane and must travel over the water. Ask your freight partner for a complete listing of other items restricted from air transport.


Security and handling are often considerations when selecting the best shipping method. With air freight there is a lower risk of damage or loss. Part of this is due to the speed of air versus ocean. Another aspect that reduces risk is the fact that air freight doesn’t usually experience the same delays caused by customs and transport as ocean freight. This minimizes the chances of loss during air transport.


Air freight schedules are more predictable and less prone to delays than ocean freight. A flight may be delayed due to weather or engine trouble, causing a delay that’s usually not more than a day or two. Ships run on weekly schedules so issues with a given vessel often have a greater impact on shipment delays. Not only that, there have been delays experienced in ports due to work flow bottlenecks, shortages of containers, shortages of truck drivers, and more.

Environmental Impact 

Environmental factors have become increasingly important over the years. Companies are choosing to be more environmentally conscious and consider CO2 emissions when making shipping decisions. Airlines have significantly higher emissions than ocean lines. On the other hand, ocean vessels often affect water ecosystems. The potential for oil spills and other impacts on the ocean are considerations as well.

Now you have a comparison of air freight versus ocean freight. Once you consider these six factors you’ll be better equipped to select the best method to ship your international freight. 

American Group is a 3PL with decades of experience guiding businesses through the selection, preparation, and shipping of their freight. Contact us for assistance with your next shipment by phone at 866-553-6608 or by email at We’re here to make Shipping.Simplified®.


Photo Attribution: Copyright: <a href=''>kinwun / 123RF Stock Photo</a>