Table of contents
    Table of contents

      Air Freight - Guide & Cost Comparison

      Air freight, also known as air cargo, is the movement of goods via aircraft. It is the fastest mode of international transportation, preferred for its speed and reliability in delivering goods across the globe. While it accounts for a smaller percentage of total global trade by volume, it is a crucial component of the global economy, especially for high-value, time-sensitive, or perishable goods.

      On this page you will find useful information on air freight such as the costs, transit times, how it works at customs and how to find the freight forwarder.

      You can also submit your air freight quote request within a few minutes. Verified and quality-checked freight forwarders will give you a quote within no-time.

      Air Freight FAQ

      Get Air Freight Quotes


      Types of Air Freight Aircraft

      There are various types of aircraft used for air freight, each suited for specific cargo types and distances:

      Dedicated Freighters

      • Wide-Body Freighters: These large aircraft, such as the Boeing 747 and 777, can carry massive volumes of cargo over long distances. They are ideal for bulk shipments, heavy machinery, and outsized cargo.
      • Narrow-Body Freighters: Smaller than wide-body aircraft, these planes (like the Boeing 757 and 737) are well-suited for shorter distances and lighter loads. They are often used for express shipments, e-commerce deliveries, and regional cargo transportation.
      boeing 747 cargo wide-body
      Boeing 747 Cargo Wide-Body

      Converted Freighters

      Passenger-to-Freighter (P2F) Conversions: These are former passenger aircraft modified to carry cargo. They offer a cost-effective option for transporting goods and can be adapted to various cargo configurations.

      Other Aircraft:

      • Super Transporters: These specialized aircraft are designed to carry oversized cargo, such as satellites, aircraft components, or even other airplanes.
      • Combination (Combi) Aircraft: These planes can carry both passengers and cargo on the main deck, providing flexibility for airlines.

      The choice of aircraft depends on the type, size, and weight of the cargo, as well as the distance and urgency of the shipment.

      The C-5M Super Galaxy is one of the world's largest cargo aircraft, a so-called Super Transporter

      Air freight versus other transport methods

      While sea freight is the most cost-effective way to ship large volumes over long distances, when not in a rush, air freight is ideal for high-value or time-sensitive shipments. Rail freight is best for transporting large quantities over land routes. Finally, road freight offers flexibility and is well-suited for shorter distances and door-to-door deliveries.

      Below we will compare air freight with rail, sea and road freight.

      FactorSea FreightAir FreightRail Freight
      Suitability for large shipmentsYesNoYes
      Suitability for time-sensitive shipmentsNoYesLimited
      Suitability for hazardous materialsLimitedYesLimited
      Suitability for temperature-controlled cargoLimitedYesLimited

      Air freight rates & costs

      Air freight rates are calculated based on several factors, making it essential to understand the components involved to estimate shipping costs accurately.

      Key Factors:

      • Chargeable Weight: This is the higher value between the actual gross weight and the volumetric weight.
        • Actual Gross Weight: The total weight of the shipment, including packaging.
        • Volumetric Weight: Calculated as (length x width x height in cm) / 6000.
      • Rate per Kilogram: Varies based on destination, service level, fuel prices, and demand.
      • Additional Charges: May include fuel surcharges, security screening, customs clearance, terminal handling, and insurance.

      Airfreight cost breakdown

      Scenario: Shipment from New York to London

      Shipment Details:

      • Actual Weight: 10 kg
      • Dimensions (Length x Width x Height): 50 cm x 40 cm x 30 cm
      • Declared Value (for Insurance): $1000 USD

      Cost Breakdown:

      Transportation Costs:

      • Base Rate (per kg): $7.00
      • Chargeable Weight:
        • Actual weight: 10 kg
        • Volumetric weight: (50 cm x 40 cm x 30 cm) / 6000 = 10 kg
        • Since they're equal, the chargeable weight is 10 kg
      • Base Transportation Cost: 10 kg * $7.00/kg = $70.00
      • Fuel Surcharge (10% of base cost): $70.00 * 0.10 = $7.00
      • Total Transportation Cost: $70.00 + $7.00 = $77.00

      Additional Fees:

      • Security Fee: $20.00
      • Customs Clearance Fee: $50.00
      • Terminal Handling Fee: $15.00


      Insurance Rate (2% of declared value): $1000 * 0.02 = $20.00

      Total Estimated Cost:

      $77.00 (transportation) + $20.00 (security) + $50.00 (customs) + $15.00 (handling) + $20.00 (insurance) = $182.00

      Other pricing factors

      Further important considerations for the total air freight rate will be any changes in currency exchange rates. Therefore, you should factor in fluctuations.

      Furthermore, depending on the shipping origin and destination additional import fees and taxes could be imposed. Make sure to check this with your shipping agent. Dangerous goods could also trigger additional fees.

      Who Sets the Fees?

      Understanding who determines the different fees in air freight can help you navigate the pricing structure and negotiate better deals:

      1. Transportation Costs:

        • Base Rate: Set by airlines or freight forwarders based on their internal pricing policies, market conditions, and contractual agreements.
        • Fuel Surcharge: Tied to aviation fuel price indexes, such as the IATA Jet Fuel Price Monitor, which are published regularly.
        • Chargeable Weight: Determined by industry standards and regulations set by organizations like the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
      2. Additional Fees:

        • Security Fee: Often regulated by government agencies or airport authorities responsible for aviation security.
        • Customs Clearance Fee: Determined by the customs authorities of the importing country, based on the value and type of goods, as well as any applicable tariffs or duties.
        • Terminal Handling Fee: Set by the airport or ground handling agents responsible for managing cargo at the airport terminals.
      3. Insurance:

        • Determined by insurance providers based on the value of the goods, type of goods, destination, and their own risk assessment models.

      Example: DHL Air Freight Services & Terms

      The following table illustrates the diversity of air freight services offered by a major provider like DHL, showcasing the various options available to businesses with different needs and priorities:

      DHL Same Day JetlineDHL Same Day SpeedlineDHL Air PriorityDHL Airfreight PlusDHL Air EconomyDHL Air Tailored LiftDHL Air Thermonet
      Typical transit timeWithin 24 hoursWithin 24 hours1-2 days1-5 days5-7 daysUpon requestUpon request
      Globally availableYesYesYesNoYesYesYes
      Pick up time60 min120 minStandardStandardStandardStandardStandard
      One all-inclusive priceYesYesNoYesNoNoNo
      Day definite deliveryYesYesYesYesNoNoYes
      Proactive shipment monitoring & responseYesYesNoNoNoYesYes
      GDP compliant networkNoNoNoNoNoNoNo
      Dangerous goodsIncludedIncludedIncludedNot IncludedNot IncludedIncludedNot Included
      Oversized goodsIncludedIncludedNot IncludedNot IncludedNot IncludedIncludedNot Included
      PerishablesNot IncludedNot IncludedNot IncludedNot IncludedNot IncludedIncludedNot Included

      Air Freight Quotes?

      Fill out the form within 3 minutes and get quotes.

      Knowledge base

      Scroll to Top