n the end, you have to make your decision along two dimensions: Speed and Reliability vs. Cost and Environmental Impact. If you absolutely need to know your packages will get there safely and on time, no matter the cost, you are better off with air shipping. If you are more concerned with the impact of your shipping on the environment and with saving money, ocean shipping is a better choice for you.
You probably don’t have to be told to consider the costs before an undertaking. As a business person, you consider the bottom line and as an individual, you have a budget. Naturally, you’re going to want to know which will cost you less, air freight or ocean freight. Typically, you will hear that shipping by ocean is cheaper than shipping by air. And typically, this is true; however, this is not necessarily the case.
To make the best decision, it helps to be educated about how carriers charge for international shipping. Airlines bill you by what is called a chargeable weight. Chargeable weight is calculated from a combination of the weight and size of a shipment. Sea carriers charge per container rates for shipping in standard containers (20’ and 40’ being the most common sizes). While weight can factor into the price from sea carriers, their charge tends to be based more on the size of a shipment. If you are shipping less than a container load, your price is often determined by cubic meter. With larger and heavier shipments, it is often much cheaper to ship by sea. As a shipment gets smaller, the margin between the prices gets smaller and sometimes air will even end up less expensive.
Shippers should note that there are destination charges to consider. Whether shipping by air or by sea, there will be customs and destination fees. While the actual shipment cost of sea freight is usually cheaper than the shipment cost of air freight, the warehousing fees at seaports are many times more expensive than those at airports.
When it comes to speed, there is no question that air freight is usually much faster. Since time is money, this factor could more than make up for a higher cost of flying cargo. Many sea shipments can take around a month to arrive while an air shipment takes a day or two. For most business shipping, faster is better. When it comes to the individual moving a household, it is often good to have the extra time to prepare for the arrival of household goods in a new country. It should be noted that technology keeps moving forward in the international shipping world. Ships are getting faster. Canals have created shorter shipping routes. There are many ocean freight shipments crossing the oceans and being delivered in as few as 8 days.
Reliability is something we all look for in people, businesses, products, and services. How does ocean freight and air freight stack up against each other in this category? Air freight shipping has a much, much shorter history than ocean freight shipping, yet air freight tends to win the battle of reliability. Flights get delayed by weather and other factors, but airlines tend to be very on top of their schedules. Ocean carriers are notorious for being bad about this. It is not uncommon for ships to be off schedule. For many, a day or two here or there doesn’t hurt; however, for many businesses, a day or two could have serious cost effects. With airlines, there are usually daily flights back and forth between major cities around the world. Because of this, missing a flight doesn’t cause much of a delay for a cargo shipment. Ocean lines tend to have weekly schedules. Missing the cutoff at a seaport means a longer delay.
4. Environmental Impact
Not everything is about the bottom line and convenience. While the social awareness of environmental issues can change the way the public looks at a company and affect its bottom line, we all have a responsibility of taking care of the planet on which we live. It would seem that ocean freight wins this category. CO2 emissions are much higher in air freight transport than ocean freight transport. This causes cargo shipping by air to have a much larger carbon fingerprint than cargo shipping by sea. However, considering oil spills and the water ecosystems affected by ocean freight, gives pause. Perhaps the jury is still out on this final factor.