Freight 101 Library

Air Forwarding & Air Freight Forwarders

Everything you need to know about using an air forwarder to ship your cargo with air freight.

Air cargo forwarding

What is air cargo?

When you think of cargo, you likely visualize massive ships carrying thousands of containers across the ocean.

But in many instances, cargo is sent by air — often right under your nose… or airplane seat.

You probably also think of air cargo as a prohibitively expensive option. But in certain cases and with the right air freight forwarder, you could end up paying less to ship faster.

In this article, we will review exactly how that’s possible and why your next cargo shipment might just be airborne.

Looking for live air freight quotes from vetted providers?

What is Air (Freight) Forwarding?

Air freight forwarding is the process of organizing and planning the transport of freight from one point to another by air. 

While freight forwarders don’t physically move your cargo, they do assist in every facet of your shipment, simplifying the process and taking on the burden of communicating between all of the people and moving parts that are typically involved.

Some forwarders specialize in ocean freight, while others work specifically with air freight.

An air freight forwarder specializes in moving freight by air on either passenger aircrafts or specially designed cargo aircrafts. This specialization enables them to better understand the intricacies of air freight, create a relationship with the TSA, and, in many cases, provide better air rates.

Air Freight Logistics

International air cargo is heavily regulated. As such, many opt for a freight forwarder who works exclusively with air shipments.  

An international air freight forwarder can help you navigate through all key freight documents, insurance, customs, air freight logistics, and any turbulence you encounter along the way.

An international air freight forwarder can also ensure that your goods are packed to fit the non-traditional shape of an aircraft and effectively optimize the space you pay for.

Air Freight Transportation & Process

Air shipments are often viewed as the faster and more dependable option compared to ocean shipments, and surprisingly, they can also be more cost-effective. This apparent paradox arises from the fundamental differences in how pricing is determined for these two modes of transport.

Ocean shipping costs are predominantly based on the volume of cargo being transported, whereas air shipping costs are primarily calculated based on the weight of the cargo. Moreover, ocean shipments typically impose minimum weight and measurement requirements that must be satisfied. Consequently, when it comes to large and heavy shipments, ocean transport tends to be the more economical choice.

Conversely, smaller and lighter shipments can actually be cheaper to send by air. The key lies in finding that sweet spot where your freight size and weight align with the most cost-effective mode of transportation. It’s essential to evaluate the specific needs of your cargo to determine the best option.

Calculate Air Freight Rates

The easiest way to know if air cargo is right for you is to get a broad picture of your options.

You can do this easily using our freight rate calculator:


Simply enter your dimensions and weight and get an instant estimate. You can also get live quotes directly on

Read more about calculating freight forwarder costs and fees.

Air Freight Brokers

Air freight can be fraught.

Airlines provide a plethora of cargo options, and for many shippers, determining the optimal choice from this array of possibilities can be quite challenging. This is where the role of air freight brokers comes into play. These professionals specialize in simplifying the intricate process of air shipping, ensuring that shippers secure the best shipping options at the most competitive prices.

Air freight brokers serve as invaluable guides, helping shippers plan their shipments with precision and finesse. They excel in coordinating between multiple carriers and destinations, ensuring that goods are transported seamlessly, arriving at their intended locations precisely on schedule and within budget constraints. Brokers possess the knowledge and expertise to negotiate effectively for essential factors such as space, speed, and cost, thereby saving shippers both time and the hassle of dealing directly with airlines and other service providers.

In essence, air freight brokers act as intermediaries, streamlining the shipping process and making it significantly smoother than attempting to navigate the intricacies of air cargo independently. Their services not only simplify the logistics of air freight but also provide shippers with the confidence that their valuable cargo will reach its destination efficiently and affordably, allowing them to focus on their core business operations while leaving the complexities of air shipping in expert hands.

Top Air Freight Companies

Air freight is a fairly fragmented field, with the top ten air freight companies and forwarders dominating only 39% of the market.

The top air freight  companies have remained ahead of the pack for years:

  • DHL Global Forwarding
    In 2015, DHL Global Forwarding air freight revenue reached $5.4 billion dollars. In 2015, it moved 2.1 million tonnes of air freight, over 60% more than the next forwarder in line.
  • DB Schenker
    Headquartered in Germany, the freight giant employees nearly 100,000 employees around the world. In 2015, it saw $3.8 billion in air freight revenue.
  • Kuehne + Nagel
    Between ocean and air freight shipping, this company holds close to 10% of the freight market. IN 2015, air freight revenue reached $3.3 billion.
  • Panalpina
    Founded in 1936, the Swiss forwarder saw $2.5 billion in air freight revenue in 2015. It also has one Boeing 747, leased from Atlas Air Cargo, which it called “Spirit of Panalpina”.
  • Expeditors
    A relative newcomer, founded in 1979 in Seattle, Washington, this US forwarder had $2.51 billion in air freight revenue in 2015.

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