Ocean Freight vs. Air Freight: What It Really Comes Down To - Straight Forwarding

Shipping freight overseas is significantly more complicated than moving your cargos from one state to another. It is essential to decide on what transportation mode to use to move your cargos, as that would decide the succeeding paperworks and clearance processes. Ocean freight and air freight are the two most common ways of transporting cargo. Although shipping by ocean freight is more affordable than air freight, air freight is a lot more reliable than ocean freight. It is important to understand the differences between the two transportation modes and which is best suited for your needs.

Ocean Freight

Shipping by ocean is a complicated process; however, it is one of the most commonly chosen transportation modes. Transporting by ocean freight involves packing items into large containers. A standard container is 20 feet by 40 feet and is charged a flat rate. If your cargo does not fill up the entire container, it is then categorized as LCL (less-than-container load) shipment and charged by the cubic meter.

Air Freight

Air freight on the other hand consists of shipments sent from one place to another by using an air carrier. These air carriers travel the same air routes as passenger or commercial planes; hence, expedited deliveries are often made via air freight. Products can be shipped via passenger planes, dedicated cargo planes or supercargo planes.

Key Comparisons

Cost & Weight

One of the main distinctions between air freight and ocean freight is that air freight is limited by weight of cargos while ocean freight is limited by the volume of cargos.

Air Freight Ocean Freight
More expensive, for smaller packages

Due to its quick speed of delivery, air freight is relatively more expensive. Air freight rates are calculated by the dimensional factor of 6,000 cubic centimeter/kilogram.

Less expensive, for larger cargosOcean freight is a good option for bulkier packages. Ships are able to carry a greater volume of cargo, allowing considerably cheaper freight rates and more favorable quotes.


A crucial difference between ocean freight and air freight is speed. The urgency of your shipments is an important factor to help you determine which transportation method to use.

Air Freight Ocean Freight
Good for time-sensitive cargos

Air freight is delivered within an average of ten days. These ten days include holding hours at the air terminal as well as routing and waiting time.


As ocean freight is transported across the sea, the transportation time varies vastly from seven days to 70 days.


The security of your package is a prioritized concern of many freight forwarders. Cargo damages usually occur due to mishandling of packages from during the process of transporting it.

Air Freight Ocean Freight
Minimal handling, Safest Option

There is minimal handling regarding air freight, so there is a minimal risk of damaging the cargo.

Longer Process Equating to More Risks

Due to a more complicated handling of the cargo, there are more chances for mishandling of packages to occur.

So… which is better?

At the end of the day, the choice of air freight or ocean freight being the more suitable choice comes down to the nature of your business and the type of cargo you are shipping. For instance, if your cargo can be inventoried and stored in a warehouse, large bulk shipping via ocean freight is a suitable option. However, if your cargo is time-sensitive such as edibles or very valuable, then air freight may be a better option.

Freight forwarders like SFI advise you on the best transport method for your business and needs in today’s shipping industry. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us today! We would love to talk to you about the best way to get your cargos to your destination.

Awesome Image
Awesome Image