Fly or Float? The Differences Between Air Freight and Sea Freight

Fly or Float? The Differences Between Air Freight and Sea Freight

You have a string of deliveries set for various destinations in the Philippines, and you’re torn between shipping them as air freight or sea freight. Part of you may wonder if the difference really matters, especially next to more obvious concerns like meeting production quotas. However, your choice of freight forwarding mode can spell the difference between efficient operations and wasted company resources.

To help you decide how you’ll be shipping your products, here’s an infographic explaining 6 key differences between air freight and sea freight. This guide also includes expert tips to help you make the most of either type of freight forwarding.


Fly or Float? The Differences Between Air Freight and Sea Freight Infographic


6 Key Differences Between Air Freight and Sea Freight


1. Cost

For a given shipment, sea freight tends to be cheaper than air freight. This is more apparent with large, heavy shipments. The margin between options decreases with smaller shipments, however.

The cost of air freight depends on the chargeable weight. This is either the actual gross weight of the shipment or its volumetric weight, whichever is greater. You can calculate your shipment’s volumetric weight with the following formula:

(Length (cm) x Width (cm) x Height (cm)) / 3,500 = Volumetric Weight”

On the other hand, ocean shipping is billed by container

  • Full container load (FCL) shipments are charged flat rates 
  • Less-than-container load (LCL) shipments are charged by cubic meter

The shipment’s actual weight usually doesn’t affect the cost.

NOTE: Both air freight and sea freight are subject to customs and destination fees. Some seaports may charge higher warehousing fees than airport.

2. Range of Shippable Items

Sea freight allows all shapes, sizes, and weights of goods, making it ideal for bulk shipments. 

Air freight is often limited to light shipments and has prohibitions on hazardous goods. Some examples of hazardous goods are:

  • gases
  • flammable substances
  • toxic or corrosive goods
  • magnets, including devices containing them
  • oxidizers and biochemical products

3. Speed

Air freight is the hands-down winner in terms of shipment speed, with deliveries taking only one or two days.

In contrast, ocean shipments may take a week or more. However, it’s worth noting that ships are becoming faster and shipping routes are constantly being optimized.

DID YOU KNOW? The opening of the Suez Canal trimmed international shipping routes by 7,000 km. It also halved the travel time from Spain to the Philippines.

4. Reliability 

When it comes to adapting to schedule changes, air freight proves itself to be more reliable and flexible. 

Inclement weather can definitely affect airline schedules, but flights can still be rearranged with relative ease. Meanwhile, ocean carriers may need a few days to catch up, although emerging alliances between carriers has helped bring up the reliability of sea freight. It also helps that there are often multiple daily flights between major cities, compared to ships’ weekly schedules.

5. Safety of Shipped Goods

Air freight generally presents a lower risk of your goods taking damage in transit. This is because freight can shift around much more on a container ship than inside a plane. 

DID YOU KNOW? There are six different directions of ship movement.

6. Sustainability 

For environmentally-conscious shippers, sea freight has a much smaller carbon footprint than air freight. Modern cargo ships are even being designed to use up less fuel and produce less waste.

DID YOU KNOW? It’s now possible to travel internationally by cargo ship instead of by plane.

Tips for Both Air Freight and Sea Freight

Whichever mode of shipment you’ve chosen, there are still additional steps you can take to cut your costs further or keep your shipments safe.

  • Pack Your Cargo Properly. While air freight will not shift as much as sea freight during transit, the plane carrying your goods just might experience turbulence or a hard landing. It’s always a good idea to pack your shipments well to protect them.
  • Ship More Goods Less Frequently. You might be surprised by how much cheaper it is than shipping smaller packages more often. But of course, this may not apply much to businesses that require frequent deliveries by default (like with an online retailer). 
  • Combine Services When Applicable. Some shippers may find air freight too costly and ocean freight too time-consuming. In this case, you can come up with a combination of the two that brings truck deliveries or courier services into the picture.
  • Consult a Logistics Expert. The insight of an industry professional can point you in the right direction for your freight forwarding needs.

Want to be sure that you’re choosing correctly between air freight and sea freight? Feel free to consult WSI. As one of the Philippines’ reliable B2B courier companies, we are more than qualified to help you figure out the best freight forwarding solution for your business needs. Contact us now to find out more!

Did you find this infographic helpful? Visit our blog for more expert advice on freight forwarding solutions and other areas of logistics.