Ocean Freight or Air Freight Shipping

Tanker Cargo and aircraft at sea.

What’s the difference?

At first glance, the difference between freight methods seems to be straightforward.

Oceanfreighting transports your goods via a cargo ship.

Air freighting transports your goods by aircraft.

Determining which is better depends on several considerations.

What are the considerations?

Cost and Transit Time

If shipping cost is a huge factor, oceanfreighting may be more ideal, as it is generally less expensive. There are now Direct Oceanfreight options with faster vessels and canal improvements so these allow faster seaway transport time. That being said, ocean freighting can take up to several weeks depending on the destination. 

Air freight costs can get up to 3-5 times the cost of one ocean freight shipment, but there needs to be a more thorough comparison, as there are instances where air freighting may be the more cost-effective option based on the amount of goods for transport.

Usually, air freighting is more expensive than ocean freighting, so it’s worthwhile to consider if the monetary cost outweighs the time constraints of your goods being transported. For faster transport of goods, air freighting is better as transit time may take 1 or 2 days at minimum.

Weather, port conditions, and custom regulations must still be taken into consideration as both ocean freight and air freight are affected by these factors.

Cargo Type and Items

Air freighting is the better option when your shipment needs to be transported with urgency. 

Since transit time for ocean freight takes longer, perishable items or high urgency shipments would be less ideal for ocean freighting.

Transport restrictions should also be taken into consideration.

Ocean freight will allow transport of items labeled as “dangerous goods”. Some items marked as dangerous are those that contain toxic gases, alcohols, magnetic substances, flammable liquids, biochemical products, and corrosive items.

Air freight is more restrictive in this sense, as dangerous goods are usually not allowed for air freighting.


For most consumers, environmental sustainability is a factor. If this is a factor in choosing your freight options, sea freight is the better option as it has a lesser carbon footprint than air freight. Planes release emissions directly in the atmosphere, so the carbon footprint left per flight is higher than sea transport.

Ocean FreightAir Freight
Transit TimeWeeks5-7 Days
RestrictionsDangerous goods allowedGasses, flammable, toxic, corrosive items, magnetic substances, biochemical products and other dangerous goods
Cargo Safety
Carbon FootprintFile:Carbon footprint icon.png - Wikimedia CommonsUp Arrow Png Background Image - Up Arrow Black Icon Png PNG Image | Transparent  PNG Free Download on SeekPNG
Cargo Weight and SizeIdeal for heavier and bigger cargo; high volumeIdeal for smaller cargo
Cargo Type/ItemsNot time-sensitiveShort shelf life, perishable items


There are other factors to consider when determining your freight options. Freight forwarders help you choose the best option for your shipment needs. McHugh and Eastwood have the expertise and the industry knowledge to help you determine whether ocean freighting or air freighting is better for your transport. We are your reliable freight forwarding partner that will support you in making the best choice, and provide assurance that your cargo is handled in the best way.

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