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Air Cargo vs. Air Freight: The Usage in the Shipping Industry

Air Cargo vs. Air Freight

Air cargo and air freight are often confused with one another, but there’s a big difference between the two.
We’ll outline the key differences between the two services so you can make an informed decision about which service is best for your shipping needs.

Shipping by air is one of the quickest and most reliable ways to get your goods from Point A to Point B. It’s for that reason that more than $6 trillion worth of air shipments are transported annually.

That cargo could be anything from flowers and electronics to pharmaceuticals and industrial machinery.

What is Air Cargo?

Air cargo is the term used for goods shipped by air, usually by using an air cargo service or third-party logistics provider. However, it can also be shipped as checked luggage on a passenger airline.

There are two types of air cargo – general and special cargo.

General Cargo

An ordinary shipment item so it does not need to require special handling but still must meet the specified requirements and safety aspects. Examples of goods that are categorized as general cargo include household goods, office equipment, sports equipment, clothing (garment, textiles), and others.

Special cargo

Shipment items that require special handling. This type of goods can basically be transported by air transport and must meet the requirements and special handling in accordance with IATA regulations and or carrier. Goods or materials included in the special cargo category are:

  • Live animals (AVI) are live animals sent by airplanes such as chicks, horses, goats, fish, etc.
  • Perishable goods (PER) are goods that are easily damaged, destroyed, or rotten, such as fruits, vegetables, meat, flowers, fish, and plant seeds.
  • Valuable goods (VAL) are goods that have high value or valuables such as gold, diamonds, diamonds, checks, platinum, etc.
  • Strongly smelling goods are goods that have a very strong odor such as durian, perfume, eucalyptus oil.
  • Live Human Organs (LHO) are goods in the form of human organs that still function such as the eyeball, kidney, liver.
  • Diplomatic Pouch (DIP), diplomatic shipment items.

What is Air Freight?

Airfreight is the term used for goods shipped by air and transported in a cargo hold. Unlike cargo, air freight can’t go on passenger planes. Instead, it’s transported on dedicated cargo planes. Moreover, air freight is usually handled through a freight forwarder.

Air-freight planes move anything that can be bought or sold. See how goods are shipped worldwide. You can ship just about anything by air. Letters, packages, cars, horses, construction equipment, and even other airplanes can be shipped air freight.

What’s the Difference between Air cargo vs. Air freight?

The main difference between the usage of the words freight and cargo is that any fees charged by the transport carrier are often called freight charges.

Cargo, on the other hand, does not refer to the money charged, but instead only refers to the goods. typically goods carried by larger vehicles, such as large cargo ships and planes, whereas freight is typically goods carried by smaller vehicles like trucks.

At times the word ‘freight’ may be used to describe the goods solely, but can also be the process of transporting the goods.

Both terms are used for imported and exported goods. The differences between the two terms have become smaller in modern times, but originally cargo exclusively referred to goods transported by ship or plane, while freight was exclusively used for goods transported by truck or train.

Now that we’ve outlined the two main types of air shipping, let’s take a look at the key differences between them.

1. Air Cargo Can Go On Passenger Planes

One of the key differences between air cargo and air freight is that cargo can go on passenger planes in the form of luggage, while air freight can’t.

Airfreight is only transported in a cargo hold on dedicated cargo planes.


Air cargo is usually shipped by a third-party logistics provider, such as FedEx, UPS, or DHL.

This means that you don’t need to worry about finding air freight services to ship your goods. Instead, the third-party logistics provider will take care of everything.

This does not mean that Air Freight don’t use Third-party providers

3. Air Cargo Is Cheaper Than Air Freight

One of the benefits of air cargo is that it’s usually less expensive than air freight. That’s because cargo doesn’t require a dedicated cargo plane, which can be expensive.

4. Air Cargo Is Faster Than Air Freight

Another benefit of air cargo is that it’s usually faster than air freight. This is because it goes on passenger planes, which are usually faster than freight planes.

Airfreight also has a higher transit time.

5. Air Cargo Is Limited to Certain Items

Air cargo is limited to certain items (usually small and lightweight). If you need to ship a large item, you’ll need to use air freight.

Plus, cargo is limited to what can fit in a passenger plane’s luggage hold. In contrast, air freight can ship larger items and heavier shipments–even more dangerous goods in the life sciences industry.

6. Air Cargo Is Less Reliable Than Air Freight

Air cargo is less reliable than air freight. This is because it depends on passenger planes, which can be delayed or canceled.

In contrast, an air freight shipment is transported on dedicated cargo planes, so it’s less likely to be delayed or canceled.

Factors That Affect Air Shipping

Like all shipping methods, the supply chain of air cargo and air freight is affected by several factors. Here are the important ones.

Weight/Size of the Item

One of the most important factors that affect air cargo and air freight is the item’s weight. That’s because the weight determines how much it’ll cost to ship. Heavier items usually cost more to ship than lighter items.

Similarly, larger items usually cost more to ship than smaller items because they take up more space on the plane. And if an item doesn’t fit in the luggage hold, it’ll need to be shipped by air freight.

Distance to the Destination

The destination’s distance from the point of origin also affects air cargo and air freight. The further away the destination is, the more expensive it’ll be to import and export the item(s).

This is because planes need to carry more fuel when flying long distances, increasing the shipping cost.

Time of Year

The time of year also affects the management system of air cargo or air freight. There are busy times and slow times for both.

For example, Christmas is a very busy time for air cargo and air freight experts because there’s a lot of last-minute shopping.

Tips to Use Air Cargo and Air Freight

Finally, here are a few tips before wrapping up.

Firstly, take care of the packaging. Use cardboard boxes and bubble wrap to protect your items during transport.

Second, always double-check the measurements. You want to avoid paying for excess baggage. Not to mention, if you report the wrong measurements, you may risk your luggage being held back until verification.

Lastly, ensure that you have all the necessary documentation. This includes your shipping invoice, bill of lading, good distribution practice (GDP) proof, and more. It’ll be difficult to track your package or get it released at the destination without these documents.

By considering these factors, you can ensure that your items are shipped safely. And if you need help, our customer service team is just a call away!

AN Aviation air cargo handler

We offer our customers full international cargo handling services passed on an IATA standard ground handling basis and a safe operation of aircraft.

Also weighing all hold cargo and baggage (an accurate estimate of weight provided by using “standard” values), load correctly, and secure to prevent movement in flight.

We take care of these loading instructions to match the requirements for distribution stated within the aircraft load and trim sheet.