The pandemic has hit almost all businesses, but this blow was worse for the shipping business. It is a general idea that air freight is more expensive than other types of shipping, but it is also the fastest way to ship goods from one country to another. In this article, we will discuss the actual reason why it is more expensive than ocean freight, and its possible alternatives.

So, let’s get started!

Air freight

The amount paid for moving goods is called freight, and doing via commercial or domestic airplanes, or simply the transfer of goods from one place to another via air carrier is called air freight.


Forwarding goods via an air freight service is more advantageous since it can move items in very less time. It is also very safe compared to ocean freight, as air customs are much more careful with goods and take more time for thorough checking, so there are fewer chances of parcels getting lost or theft.


Before we get into why air freights are expensive, let’s talk about the background.

Local businesses are a thing of the past now, and thanks to COVID-19 more businesses are shifting to international online stores, which has led to an increase in global shipments.

During the COVID pandemic, most flights and ships were forced to stay at one location, which stopped almost all sorts of trade between countries. Later, when the lock down finally ended and ports were open for business, everyone wanted to get their goods to the country as soon as possible, whereas ports couldn’t handle this pressure, and ships got stuck at the docks.

These stuck ships put pressure on everyone, and no one is enjoying this mess. Customers want their products to be delivered as soon as possible while the freight company is paying expenses to shipping companies and port administrations. These added expenses are then pushed down the chain to the end-user.

Why is air freight more expensive than ocean freight?

Here are some of the main reasons why air freight is more expensive than the ocean freight.

Cheap fuel:

Airplanes use Kerosene to travel while cargo ships use bunker fuel. The primary purpose of any fuel type is to drive a vehicle. In the case of ocean cargo, the fuel needs only to push the ship, and the ship’s design is such that water keeps it afloat. While in airplanes, energy is required not only to move the plane forward but also to have a tremendous downward thrust to keep the plane in the air.

More trips:

The time taken to carry goods via air carriers might be lesser, but it becomes almost the same as an ocean carrier due to multiple trips. In the case of cargo ships, one trip is enough to carry all the goods, whereas, in the case of their air flight, the journey needs to be done around two or three times to bring the same amount of goods. These multiple trips make it very hard for people to choose air freight over ocean freight.


Since air carriers have limited space, they can’t ship everything. This means that there is lots of competition for a small spot on a plane, and those who wish to get their parcels sent at the earliest must pay the additional charges.

Charges for air freight and ocean freight:

The charges for air and ocean freight are measured using different factors, and only after considering those factors can we decide whether air freight is better for our cargo or ocean freight.

Air cargo is charged by measuring size and weight. This is also called chargeable weight. Ocean freight charges mainly depend on the volume occupied by our goods since weight is not a problem for ocean cargo; only volume is essential, which serves as a scale.

Choosing air freight or ocean freight:

The cost of transportation of goods is vital for all goods. Sometimes the transportation cost is even more expensive than the value of the goods. Therefore, the choice of air transport or ocean cargo needs to be made with great care.

Here are some of the main factors which can help you make this tough decision:

  • Weight
  • Distance
  • Time
  • Safety


The weight of goods is very important when choosing air freight or ocean freight. Air cargo charges for a parcel are based on its weight, while ocean cargo charges are decided on its volume. So, if your goods have more weight, you should choose ocean shipment over air carriers.


Distance is also a big factor to consider when choosing air freight or ocean cargo. If your goods are to be shipped from one city to another, then air couriers are better and much faster. While for very long traveling parcels, it is more convenient to choose ocean freight.


Time is a luxury, and to save valuable time, you must open the doors to your wallet. Select air carriers to transport goods and utilize the saved time for other essential tasks if you have money. Ocean freight can take up to many weeks to reach the desired place, whereas air freight can travel the same distance in a matter of days.

Air freight offers predictability, whereas ocean freight offers no such exact time frame. Packages are often expected to arrive late at their destination in case of ocean freight.


The safety of air shipments is much better than ocean freight. Since the security is stricter and less transportation is to be done, there are fewer chances of you losing your precious cargo. The strict check and balances at airports can help calm your mind on account of safety.

Package type:

Harmful gasses, bio hazards, medicines, and other dangerous packages can’t move by air, and for those that are allowed, these types of harmful freight are carried through the ocean.

When to select ocean or air freight?

Here is a summary of when air freight or ocean freight are better options:

Air freight:

  • When the package is small
  • When urgent delivery is required
  • When more safety is required

Ocean freight:

  • When the package is required in bulk
  • When fast delivery is not required
  • When potentially dangerous material is to be moved

Alternatives to air freight:

By now, you must be clear on air and ocean freight, but that’s not all; there are other types of cargo as well. These can serve as a great alternative to air freight when air cargo charges don’t look very pleasing.

1- Less than Truckload Freight (LTL):

This is a very cost-efficient and time-saving freight type. Here you don’t have to pay for the whole truckload. Instead, you can share your trucking space and expenses with other business owners. All in all, it is a perfect package for small business owners who are just starting and don’t want to invest heavily in shipments.

2- Full Truckload Freight (FTF):

If you don’t like to share your goods going in the same space as someone’s goods, then you can use full truckload freight, and now your products will reach the final destination much quicker and more safely. But for anything extra, one must pay the premium price, and the same is the case here. You can expect to be charged almost double of what LTL would have charged you.

3- Intermodal Rail Freight (IRF)

This is the most cost-effective and best alternative to air and ocean freight. The Railway system is spread all over the world and connects countries. This mode of delivery is cheaper for bulky orders, and hazardous substances can be transported using IRF. It is both cost and time-saving, and a great alternative to truckload freights.

4- Expedited shipping

Any delivery faster than the standard cargo is called expedited delivery. Expedited delivery is a more expensive alternative to air or truckload shipping, but it’s perfect if saving time is your number one priority.
In this type of delivery, to save time, the route is direct from the pickup straight to the drop-off, and instead of one driver, two drivers are used to work alternatively and save precious time. It is ideal for companies when the delivery is urgently needed, and late delivery can cost them far more damage, such as when they are short on raw materials or need spare parts for their damaged machines.


So, we have discussed the difference between air freight and ocean freight in detail and some possible alternatives that might help you decide in the future.

But for your help, let us summarize all of that in a few sentences. Air freight is better for small packages when time is the priority, and you can pay the premium cost for that extra quick delivery, whereas ocean freight is a better option when you need to save cost on bulk orders.

And if your delivery is not very far and within the country, you can use LTL or IRF, depending on your product’s size and distance. So, although air freight is more expensive, choosing a trusted service can help greatly reduce the risk of loss – as after all, loss of valuable freight can cause you more money and recovery costs.