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5 Most Common Air Freight Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

Air Freight

Air Freight Packaging

When packing air freight for a shipment, there are many things that can go wrong. Poor planning, inaccurate documentation and inadequate communication can all contribute to operational failure.

The transport of air cargo is strictly regulated, and attention to detail within your supply chain is paramount to avoid delays, accidents and, ultimately, extra costs. For important background information, you can read our article on how the air freight process works.

If you’re a business relying on aircraft to import and export cargo, then keep reading.

Below, we’ll outline the advantages of air freight, but also five of the most common air freight mistakes we’ve seen businesses of all sizes make when they are transporting their goods overseas via aircraft. We’ll explain step-by-step what you can do to avoid these mistakes.

Advantages of air freight

Air freight presents a raft of operational advantages, especially when comparing it to sea freight. Some of these benefits are as follows.

  • Air freight is much faster than sea freight. It is therefore useful if you need something shipped urgently. While international air freight rates are generally higher, you are paying for quick delivery.
  • You can send your cargo virtually anywhere on the map. Many international airlines have networks that cover virtually the entire world.
  • It’s extremely reliable. Airlines are usually good at sticking to their arrival and departure times.
  • Air freight is considered one of the safest ways to transport cargo. Incidents such as engine failure or other issues requiring emergency landings are very rare.
  • Insurance is low. Because the time it takes to transport air cargo is short, insurance premiums are typically lower.
  • Air freight is useful if you’re running out of stock. You can get extra stock transported much quicker on an aircraft compared to an ocean vessel.
  • Less packing is required. Generally, air freight doesn’t require as heavy packing as ocean shipments, meaning you’ll save both time and money on extra packing.

Most common air freight mistakes

Despite its benefits, many businesses make the same mistakes when shipping their goods via aircraft. We’ll outline five of the most common ones below.

1. Overpacking your shipment

One of the most important steps in an air freight shipment is packing your cargo correctly – and, in particular, not overpacking your shipment. This is a key cause behind shipping damage, which can give rise to insurance claims, extra costs, painful delays and angry customers.

To avoid this properly measure your cargo and keep in mind the dimensions permitted for your aircraft. While you can transport larger cargo, it may need to be packed on specialised equipment, this again will depend on the individual airline and its requirements. Maximum height is also usually determined based on the type of aircraft.

This applies no matter what type of cargo you’re transporting – whether it’s construction materials, heavy machinery or dangerous goods.

air freight loaded into a freight plane


2. Pallet overhang

When you pack goods on an aircraft, the typical practice is that they are placed on a pallet. Pallet overhang refers to where your goods exceed the boundaries of this pallet.

Unsurprisingly, this can lead to damage. Cargo is constantly moved around in warehouses, ports and vehicles. If it is hanging over the pallet, there is a high chance that it will collide with other goods or infrastructure. Similarly, if your cargo is stacked on top of another pallet that has an overhang, your freight may experience stress and become damaged under pressure.

If your cargo does overhang over the pallet, then it is important that everyone in the supply chain is aware of it – and puts proper measures in place to minimise the risk of your freight being damaged.

3. Incorrectly wrapped pallets

Another common mistake when shipping air freight is incorrectly wrapping your pallets, resulting in loads collapsing and freight becoming damaged.

Too often, we’ve seen businesses:

  • use the wrong type of stretch wrapping,
  • experience the consequences of stretch film snapping, or
  • not using enough stretch wrap to ensure that their pallets are secure.

The result of this is always goods becoming damaged, a delayed shipment, extra costs being paid and/or insurance claims needing to be made (that is, if the business has insurance).

To ensure your pallets are wrapped correctly, we always recommend:

  • Making sure your stretch wrap is the correct size. You can determine this based on the shape and size of your cargo, and the height of your pallets.
  • Making sure you use enough stretch wrap. Ideally, you would use at least wrap five times around your pallet, applying proper stretch wrapping techniques to do so (i.e. twisting your wrap every rotation to increase strength).
air freight being wrapped with plastic

4. Using the incorrect type of pallet

Choosing the correct pallet in the first place is essential to prevent your cargo from becoming damaged.

There are many types of pallets you can choose from, and which one you pick will often depend on the aircraft you’re using.

We’ve put together the below pallet types so you can have an understanding of the different pallet sizes. Please keep in mind this is generic information. Please confirm with your airline on the pallet types they accept.

Pallet TypeBase SizeSuitable Aircraft
Standard Pallet304cm x 210cmAirbus: A300, A310, A330, A340Boeing: 747McDonnell Douglas: MD-11
10ft Air Freight Pallet304cm x 230cmAirbus: A300, A310, A330, A340Boeing: 747McDonnell Douglas: MD-11
20ft Air Freight Pallet592cm x 230cm (usable size)Boeing: 747McDonnell Douglas: MD-11
Heavy Duty Air Freight Pallet304cm x 231cmAirbus: A300, A310, A330, A340Boeing: 747McDonnell Douglas: MD-11

We see businesses often pick incorrectly sized pallets or outdated pallets, which can lead to disaster.

5. Check your documentation

While it may sound dull, accurate shipping documentation is essential to ensuring your air freight is transported seamlessly.

If your documents do not match up, or if anything is left incomplete, your cargo may get stuck at a port or somewhere else in the supply chain, leading to increased detention and/or demurrage charges. It can also have a ‘flow on’ effect throughout your business, leading to delays in projects, production and getting your goods onto the shelf to sell to your customers.

Some of the most important documents to get correct include your commercial invoice, packing declaration, packing list, certificate of origin and other important declarations such as any fumigation declaration that might be applicable.

How to avoid mistakes when transporting air cargo

There are three important steps you can take to avoid the above mistakes from causing disruptions and extra costs within your supply chain.

Pack your freight correctly

The first step is to ensure your freight is packed appropriately for air transport. This includes choosing the right packaging for the product you’re shipping. It has been estimated that 65% of cargo damage results from poorly packed, secured or blocked cargo in freight containers.

You can ensure your air cargo is packed properly by:

  • Understanding aircraft restrictions based on the dimensions of your cargo. The table in this article is a useful starting point.
  • Knowing the applicable air security law. Your cargo may be inspected by various authorities. If your cargo complies with the relevant regulations, then it may be seized, exported at your cost or destroyed. Dangerous goods, for instance, are subject to strict packaging requirements.
  • Use robust, double-walled boxes. Using strong boxes (double-walled or triple-walled) is recommended when transporting goods in aircraft. Stacked corrugated cardboard can provide sturdy protection, especially for fragile goods.

Book your shipment with enough lead time

We have often seen businesses book their air freight at the last minute. If it’s the first time booking a shipment, you must know that it is not the same thing as sending something via courier.

There are many more steps – transit times always take longer, cargo may be transferred to alternative aircraft and delays may occur.

It is therefore essential to book your shipment as early as possible so that you leave enough ‘contingency time’ – i.e. time in case ‘anything goes wrong’ and delays that occur outside your control.

Choose an experienced freight forwarder

Air freight can get complicated, and international air freight rates are expensive. Minimising mistakes as much as possible is critical. Using a professional freight forwarder experienced in air freight services can ensure nothing falls through the cracks.

Freight forwarders are experts in all things aviation and logistics. They can help you plan your shipment in the most seamless way possible, from deciding on the correct packaging and pallets to use to the most suitable aircraft and routes.

Importantly – freight forwarders can also make sure your supply chain strategy does not eat into your bottom line. That way, you can focus on growing your business and making your customers happy (without worrying that your logistics costs are eating into your profits).

International Cargo Express – your air freight forwarder for cargo

Here at International Cargo Express, we have the expertise, contacts and understanding to ensure that your air freight is transported domestically or internationally in the smoothest and most cost-effective way possible.

We’ve helped hundreds of businesses develop a smooth, profitable supply chain using air transport – and we’re more than happy to do the same thing for you.

Please get in touch with our air freight team and let’s discuss your next shipment. We have offices all across Australia.

freight forwarder from International Cargo Express
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