Shipping By Air and Time Constraints

Shipping by Air Isn’t Always Fast

Shipping By Air: Understanding Air Cargo Transit Times

Is shipping by air always fastest?
Is shipping by air always fastest?

Airfreight is one of the fastest modes of transportation for shipping goods. It is selected when deadlines are near or other urgent timelines need to be met.  In most cases, shipping by air will get your goods to the final destination the next day or within a few days. However, there are circumstances that can drastically extend the transit times of airfreight shipments. It is important to be aware of them to be sure it is the best solution for your import/export needs.

We need to first address that airfreight does not translate to “overnight” or “expedited” freight.  This is a common misconception associated with air cargo.  Although air freight is typically faster than its shipping by ocean or ground, it is also exposed to certain limitations. Such restrictions can affect transit times. Below we examine some specifics of air freight that are important to be aware of for your shipment.


Depending on your carrier and your final destination, flights may be more or less frequent.  High volume airports in major cities such as New York, NY (JFK) or Shanghai, China (PVG) will have flights to and from daily.  They will usually have multiple flights throughout each day. In the case of shipping to and from high volume cities, cargo can arrive just about any time of the day and make a same-day flight.

However, in cities that have a lower volume of travel scheduling becomes far less frequent.  In some cases, such airports will only have one to two flights a week! Missing a cut off for a scheduled flight would make you miss a day, but several days or even a week.  Further to this, fewer flights can create backlogs. So even when cargo lands, there may be cargo ahead of it that has precedence.

In short: Be aware that not all flight schedules are daily.  Some can be weekly or on specific days.  Plan accordingly and ask your freight forwarder questions to fully understand the scheduling of your air cargo.


If you are shipping by air from one major city to another, chances are you will have a non-stop or direct flight.  However, when shipping to smaller remote cities that have less flights cargo usually needs to connect/transship at a major hub before continuing to its final destination.

A few issues can occur when these connections are made.  The connecting airport may not have as frequent of a flight schedule. This means your cargo could sit for a few days or more while waiting for the connecting flight.  Smaller airports also can become overbooked more easily. When new cargo arrives there may be other cargo present that will have priority. These issues can easily add days to weeks to an air shipment.  

The takeaway: Be aware that not all air cargo is a direct/non-stop flight. Many need to connect at another airport and transfer to another aircraft. This can make your air cargo/shipment dependent upon different flight schedules ultimately adding time to transit.

Carrier Restrictions:

Proper packing and preparation of your air shipment can affect the ETA of your cargo.  Major airports will usually have a higher variety of aircraft that service the area. However, smaller and less frequently traveled airports may not have larger aircraft available.  If a shipment requires a particular aircraft but needs to travel to a more remote location the shipment may need to be broken down in order to safely board a connecting aircraft.  Certain airports may not allow specific types of planes. Cargo may need to board a specific model aircraft to get to a connecting airport. If such aircraft is not common, cargo will sit until one becomes available adding time to transit.  Such situations are rare but it is a good practice to be very specific about your cargo details to avoid unnecessary delays.

Final Notes: Not all air cargo requirements are equal and may need specific aircraft depending on the destination.  Be very accurate when informing your freight forwarder of all your cargo details.

Be fully aware of your cargo and flight details. This will ultimately help access accurate transit times and ETAs when shipping by air. Never assume that air cargo will always be a next day transit. Ask a logistics expert at Vital Worldwide Logistics for all your air freight-related concerns and needs today!

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