Is Air Shipping Worth It for Your Business? How to Tell

July 8, 2024 - Emily Newton

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Airplanes may have replaced ships as the main mode of international travel, but sea shipping remains dominant in logistics. However, air shipping can still be valuable to supply chains, depending on a few important factors.

Despite carrying a relatively low freight volume, air cargo accounts for 35% of world trade by value. This trend suggests that air shipping handles some of the world’s most valuable goods, even if it is not the primary transport mode for most shipments. But how can a business tell if this method suits their specific situation? Here’s a closer look.

Benefits of Air Shipping

Deciding if air shipping is worth it for a logistics operation starts with recognizing its benefits. As air freight’s value suggests, there are several prominent advantages to sending packages by air instead of land or sea. 

Shipping Speed

The biggest advantage of air shipping is that it’s fast. A journey that may take days for a ship can take mere hours for a plane. The efficiency benefits of air freight go beyond these simple travel speed discrepancies, too.

Air travel is less prone to significant disruption than other methods. While extreme weather can delay flights, these delays are less impactful because the trip still only takes a few hours. Air traffic also faces less congestion than roads and ports. American drivers lose 36 hours a year to congestion and many busy sea routes face high demand, but even busy airports are relatively efficient.

These advantages make air shipping an optimal choice for goods facing tight timelines. Supply chains relying on just-in-time principles or carrying products with short shelf lives will benefit the most from this speed.

Lower Damage Risks

Air freight is also less likely to incur damage during transit than sea or land transport. Oceans can be rough and many roads are in a poor state of repair. Consequently, shipments traveling along these paths experience more movement and shocks than they would in the air.

The sheer speed of air travel also plays a role in this damage prevention. Because air shipments take less time, there’s less risk that a product will expire in transit. Expiration aside, this means products can reach customers in a fresher stage, improving their quality and, in turn, leading to higher customer satisfaction.

As much as 4.3% of all inventory goes to waste yearly due to expiration or damage in transit. Consequently, some organizations can significantly reduce their supply chain costs by using air transportation for some of their shipments.


While physical damage may be a more obvious problem for most companies, many supply chains struggle with theft and fraud. In 2023 alone, businesses experienced 2,852 cargo theft incidents, leading to over $330 million in losses. This problem presents another advantage of air shipping — higher security.

Cargo passes through fewer hands when traveling by air than by land or sea. There are fewer stops along the way and fewer third parties involved. Airports also have strict security measures in place and require detailed logs about what’s going where. Consequently, it is harder for malicious actors to steal products or swap them for counterfeit goods.

Of course, air travel is not immune to theft or fraud. However, the high-security nature of the aviation industry leaves fewer opportunities for this crime to occur and makes it more difficult to carry out successfully.

Downsides of Air Shipping

While air shipping has substantial advantages, there is a reason why it has not become the industry standard. Supply chain leaders must also consider its downsides to decide if and when it is right for their business.


The most prominent disadvantage of air shipping is that it’s expensive. While rates have recently fallen to as low as $2.60 per kilogram, they typically hover much higher, and not all routes are that cheap. Flying between China and the U.S., for example, can cost as much as over $5 per kilogram.

Recent falling air freight rates largely stem from delays and disruptions in sea freight. These events highlight how air shipping can be more cost-effective in some situations, but that dynamic is not the norm.

In most cases, shipping by air is more expensive because it is a more complex process and jet fuel is a costly energy source. Situation-specific factors can affect the relative impact of these costs, but their typical high expenses deserve consideration.


Another concern with air transport is that it carries a larger carbon footprint. Airplanes account for more than 25% of global emissions, producing far more per mile than trucks or ships. This environmental toll can be an issue as supply chains face mounting pressure to become more sustainable.

Carbon emissions are still an issue with sea and land freight but to a lesser extent. Zero-emissions trucks are quickly becoming a reality. Electric ships are less common, but sea travel is more fuel-efficient than air transport. As consumers become more eco-conscious, these methods may be more desirable for companies seeking to reduce their supply chain emissions.

Electric aircraft will eventually become a reality. Until then, though, businesses must consider their larger sustainability goals to determine if air shipping’s high emissions fit within that framework.

When Air Shipping Makes Sense for a Business

Weighing these pros and cons will help businesses determine if air shipping is the right choice for their supply chains. In most cases, air transport makes sense for some items but not all.

Generally speaking, air shipping is most cost-effective when the transportation will cost less than 15% to 25% of a shipment’s value. In most cases, this means businesses should reserve air freight for their most high-value items. These products tend to carry higher theft and damage risks, too, making them even better fits for air transport.

Air travel may also be ideal when dealing with time-sensitive shipments. Vaccines are a common example, but food and beverage products or sensitive electronics can also fall into this category. Air shipping’s speed is worth the price premium if the cost of expiration or delay is higher than the difference between air and land or sea freight.

Find the Right Shipping Method for Your Supply Chain

Air shipping is expensive and emissions-heavy, but it is also fast, secure and less likely to damage items in transit. Consequently, it can play a crucial role in many businesses’ supply chains. Making the most of this opportunity starts with recognizing where air travel is most effective.

Revolutionized is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more here.


Emily Newton

Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist and the Editor in Chief of Revolutionized. She manages the sites publishing schedule, SEO optimization and content strategy. Emily enjoys writing and researching articles about how technology is changing every industry. When she isn't working, Emily enjoys playing video games or curling up with a good book.

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