Is Switching from Ocean to Air Transport Worth It?

Ocean shipping is by far the most common method used for international shipments, and for good reason. It’s one of the most affordable shipping methods and it’s incredibly easy to get access to shipping via ocean.

But what about air transport? Is air transport as efficient or affordable? How difficult would it be to implement new plans to switch from ocean to air transportation? Here is a high level overview of some of the benefits of each, as well as when it may be worth it to consider switching from ocean to air transportation.

Ocean Transportation

Ocean transportation has a whole slew of benefits. First of all, it’s incredibly economical. The competition is vast and both freight forwarder and carrier pricing is pretty affordable. Finding a price that meets your budget for ocean transportation is almost always possible.

Also, ocean transportation is relatively efficient. If you’re shipping smaller loads, they can be consolidated in LCL containers with others’ cargo to allow for cost sharing between all involved parties.

Ocean shipping has the added benefit of availability for oversized cargo. Shipping break bulk cargo on ocean vessels is relatively easy as long as you have a good freight forwarder to strategize the move.

With these benefits in mind, here is an overview of air shipping and the benefits of this mode.

Air Transportation

Air transportation is often treated like a “specialty” shipping service. Most shippers just assume that it’s too expensive and reserve their cargo for ocean shipping unless absolutely necessary to quickly move a product overseas. However, air shipping is absolutely a feasible shipping method for regular transportation of cargo, and it’s used by a large majority of shippers. Here are some of the benefits of air transportation:

Air transportation is fast. Incredibly fast. Cargo can ship in a matter of hours to its destination, making overnight transportation realistic. Another huge benefit of air transportation is options. You have more options than you know what to do with. There are daily flights to every destination you can think of – sometimes several flights per day.

Available air shipping options increase 5x or more if you are registered as a TSA Known Shipper since you’ll have access to both cargo airplanes as well as passenger aircraft.

Air shipments are also very safe. The cargo is minimally handled, making damage or cargo loss incredibly rare. Safety controls are managed tightly at airport terminals, making it a common option for high-value shipments.

Is Switching from Ocean to Air Transport Worth It?

The answer to this question will greatly depend on the nature of your business, customer base, product type, and shipping routes. In general, ocean shipping is always the best option if you need an affordable and reliable way to get cargo overseas (so long as you plan far in advance.) Ocean shipping is also a better option for large shipments. A standard 20’ TEU can fit 47,900lbs of cargo, making it a great choice for shippers moving large quantities of cargo.

Another thing to keep in mind that most people fail to mention is that the choice between these two modes of shipping should be drastically influenced by the nature of your customer base and sales process. If you are shipping a product which can be easily shipped in bulk and inventoried, ocean shipping is an excellent option. Cargo can arrive early and sit in a warehouse until it is sold.

However, if your shipments are always time-sensitive with harsh deadlines that need to be met, ocean shipping can be risky. Port congestion, low container availability, and overbooking vessels can lead to several day or several week delays in some instances. When timeliness of shipments is a huge factor to consider, air shipping almost always wins. As mentioned before, it’s incredibly fast and you have so many options. Especially if you’re a TSA Known Shipper – even if you miss one flight, another is headed to your destination potentially within hours. In other words, while you can adequately plan far in advance for time-sensitive shipments via both modes, unforeseen setbacks have much harsher consequences and effects in ocean shipping than air shipping.

Continuing the Conversation

If you’re interested in exploring more of the pros and cons of air and ocean shipping, or just have questions about your options, please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our team members! We would love the chance to talk with you and your team and help you think through these factors as you decide which mode of shipping is right for you!


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