What it takes to ship air cargo

Is your cargo flight-worthy? What does it take to ship air cargo?

EazyStock inventory Guest blogger


5 min read

Cory Levins_Air Sea ContainersThis is a guest post contributed by Cory Levins at Air Sea Containers. Cory serves as the Director of Business Development for Air Sea Containers. He oversees the development and implementation of ASC’s internal and external marketing program, driving revenue and profits from the Miami FL headquarters.

Air cargo is a popular freight shipping method because it has the shortest transit time, especially in comparison to ocean maritime cargo—the only other possibility for getting items from one continent to another.

Shipping is a complicated process with all the options provided, and shipping internationally is even more complex with forms to be signed and officials by whom the shipper may need to be interviewed and yet more considerations to make.

Before deciding to ship cargo by air, take into consideration what is permissible to ship, how much time it will need to arrive, and how to properly pack the air cargo shipment.

What type of cargo cannot be shipped via air?

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has developed regulations on what hazardous materials may not be shipped via air. The decision is based on whether it presents a safety risk to the aircraft or the personnel on board.

There is a long list of materials, but, essentially, they can be broken into nine broad categories—explosives, gases, flammable liquids, flammable solids, oxidizing substances, toxic substances, radioactive materials, corrosives, and miscellaneous items – which includes dry ice, lithium ion batteries, and first aid kits.

The manual that explains these categories provides a long list of items that fall into each one for shippers to reference. Common exclusions include but are not limited to prescriptions, medical devices, cosmetics or food without FDA-approved labels, lighters, lottery tickets, human remains, and unidentifiable materials.

Loading air cargo into a planeDangerous goods are further categorized from a scale of E0 to E5, and items in each category can only be shipped in certain amounts. In category E0, it is prohibited to ship in air cargo in any quantity. A category E5 can be shipped in quantities up to 300 grams or 300 milliliters.

Any items that are deemed nonhazardous are shippable according to regulations, but each freight company may have different rules. For example, some companies ship live animals and others do not. Fine arts, antiques, and jewelry may also be prohibited.

Other items may seem fine to ship but will be confiscated before shipment. Examples of this can be surf waxing kits and self-inflating life vests. These both have components that are on the hazards materials list.

While IATA and air freight company may permit shipping of many other items, shippers should check on the rules and regulations for the incoming country. The product may be shipped there, but customs agents can confiscate it.

Is your packing air-worthy?

Cargo packing is much different than packing for a vacation. There are hazards to air shipping, including punctures or abrasions to the boxes or the shipped items, productive damage from compressive force (being stacked or experiencing vibrations), and shipment handling. Shipment handling refers to the rough care packages receive during transport. It is inevitable the shipper’s items will be treated roughly and may be dropped. Due to these risks, it is suggested that items are packed with care so that all shocks are absorbed easily.

Shippers should choose packing materials carefully when preparing for a cargo flight. The most common shipping container is the Gaylord box, also known commonly as the cardboard box. These boxes are weakest at their edges and after being exposed to humidity, so they should only be used once.

Wooden crates are also popular shipping methods, sturdier, but more expensive than their counterpart. If done properly, wooden crates are perfect for rough air cargo. Look for crates with interlocking corners—this reinforces the crate at what is traditionally the weakest point. Fasteners cannot be put into the end grain of the wood because it will destroy it and possibly the items inside the box. To increase the integrity of the box, place diagonal braces on each side.

Shipping pallets made of wood or plastic are also good shipping options. Pallets often are preferred by the freight company because the movers do not have to come into direct contact with the package—they simply load the crate and go.

Pallet packing is a bit more complex for a novice, though. First, it should be packed so the floor-bearing load is more than one hundred pounds per foot, and the shipper should know the capacity of the pallet and ensure not to exceed it. The pallet must be large enough to accommodate the shipment without any of the shipment hanging over the edge of the pallet.

What factors should you consider when shipping via air cargo?

Shipping cargo is not as simple as mailing a letter, so there are a lot of considerations to make when considering shipment by air. The first should be to analyze when the item needs to arrive.

loading air cargo for shipmentIf the package needs to arrive before a certain deadline, air freight is best because it can arrive in days, whereas other mail methods may take longer, especially maritime freight, which can take weeks. The next factor is cost. If the package can wait for weeks, again, maritime would be the best option simply because air freight is much more expensive.

The shipper should also consider the hazardous materials list. What is hazardous for flight may be acceptable for maritime or over-ground transport, or even a commercial passenger flight.

Another factor is the cost of the product. One should send only items that are needed and unavailable for lower prices in the other location. It is not recommended to pay $500 to ship a furniture set that is available for $350 where it is being sent to.

When choosing a shipper, services should be considered in addition to price. Is tracking available and is it up to date and accurate? Air cargo is heavy, so is door-to-door service an option? Is overnight service available? Are there size or object limitations?

Finally, the ease of the packing process should be considered. Is it an oddly shaped item? Extremely fragile, or heat or cold-sensitive? If it breaks, might it damage other items in the shipment? Every piece should be carefully protected and strategically placed within the pallet.

If shipping internationally, customs is also a consideration. Obviously, new items will be taxed and, depending on the country, the pallets and boxes can be investigated. The more interesting the content, the more they will look through it, putting in jeopardy the receipt of all the items that were sent.


Air cargo is a good choice for shipping items needed relatively soon when the budget is not as big a concern as the time frame. There are other factors to consider, though, such as packing needs, substances, and hidden costs like the risk of having to pay import taxes if shipping new items.

Consideration should be given to the items in the shipment, as well as the needs of the shipper when deciding how to ship, what additional services to pay for, and how to pack. The extra care put into the process ensures items arrive safe and quickly to their destination.

About Air Sea Containers

Air Sea Containers Inc is a family owned operation specializing in safe transportation of dangerous goods worldwide for over 20 years. Always in compliance with current regulations, Air Sea Containers Inc is a pioneer of dangerous goods packaging and specializes not only in hazmat/dangerous goods packaging products and services, but also in customer care. Learn more about Air Sea Containers at www.airseacontainers.com or contact the company at (305) 599-9123.


EazyStock inventory Guest blogger


5 min read

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