Air Freight or Ocean Freight:  Which One is Better?

Are you wondering what the difference is between air and ocean freight?  If you are an importer or exporter, then you’ll need to pay attention to how each varies. Each one has its own set of pros and cons.

Choosing between air or ocean freight will depend predominately on what you are shipping:  size, weight, and contents. Also, you’ll need to consider how fast you want the goods shipped.

Shipping air for small items is a common practice. The items arrive quickly. With retail, turnover is always an issue, so retailers usually opt for air, especially with items like expensive electronics. Most consumers are also demanding faster shipping.


Air freight prices are usually less than ideal for large shipments. However, ocean shipping freight does take longer than air.


Clearly, there is a great deal of considerations you’ll need to weigh when deciding between air or ocean freight.

Choosing Between Air or Ocean Freight

Most opt to use air freight when the cost of shipping is 15 to 20% of the value of the goods.

Benefits of air freight include:


  • Faster
  • Safer
  • Reliable

Air freight does have stricter regulations when it comes to shopping anything considered hazardous.

When shipping via air freight, there is a list of prohibited items that is excessive and does vary depending on airline regulations and national law.

Common items include:

  • Flammable items
  • Public health risks
  • Magnetic items
  • Oxidizers
  • Biochemical products
  • Corrosive items
  • Toxic items

Prior to choosing air cargo, you’ll need to consider the items you are shipping to make sure they are not hazardous. Even packaging is often subject to restrictions when shipping via air. Many airlines have a maximum weight restriction on any boxes that contain corrugated fiberboard.

Ocean Freight Considerations

With ocean freight, you can ship large-capacity items or in bulk.  A single container can easily hold over 10.000 soda bottles.

Unfortunately, ocean freight takes longer than air due to a variety of customs issues and port holdups which can often lead to even more delays.

Many prefer to use ocean freight because it is far more eco-friendly and has a reduced carbon footprint compared to air travel.

Shipping Transit Time

As mentioned, air cargo is far faster than freight. When shipping freight, small shipments that do not take up an entire container often take longer than full container shipments to arrive at a destination.

However, in recent years, some ocean services have emerged which are highly competitive against air freight. Also, ocean freight carriers now provide improved ocean tracking.  Some carriers are even offering express ocean services.

With air cargo, things are consolidated which takes time. Transit times often run from five to seven days. Express ocean freight for shipping from Europe to the East coast can take around eight days if the conditions are right.

Comparing the Carbon Footprint Between Air Freight and Ocean Freight

Nowadays, many are becoming environmentally conscious and care about the carbon footprint that services provide. Air freight definitely impacts the environment on a greater level than the ocean freight. The CO2 emissions for ocean freight are far lower compared to air freight.

If you are on the fence about which one to pick: air freight versus ocean freight,  contact Sobel Network Shipping to learn more.