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Air Cargo Vs Air Courier: Learn The Difference

sahil bajaj

Sahil Bajaj

Senior Specialist - Marketing @ Shiprocket

February 21, 2024

7 min read

Are you planning to ship your consignment via air? Do you know what your options are for shipping parcels through the air mode? There are two distinct methods to ship your consignments by air freight. These include air cargo and air courier. Shipping through air is the most efficient method. In case you are under the impression that all types of air freight are the same, you are most definitely wrong.

There are different types of freight services used in the air shipping world. Any business choosing air freight implies that they have really expensive clients. When it all boils down to international shipping, there are some huge, distinct differences between air couriers and air cargo. This article highlights those differences and helps you gain an insight into how you can choose between the two for your business.

Air Cargo Vs Air Courier

What is Air Cargo?

Goods or freight that are shipped by aircraft are known as air cargo. The terms air cargo and air freight can be used interchangeably. It simply refers to the carriage or container of the goods in an air carrier. Air transport is extremely important in today’s quick-paced world as moving shipments across borders has risen in demand. Air cargo lies in the same gateway as passenger airlines and commercial airlines. 

As of December 2022, the global air cargo industry had 250.2 billion cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs). This is 8% lower than the same period in 2021, but close to the pre-pandemic level of 2019.

Today, air cargo has become a very critical element of the global supply chain as it allows businesses to move their consignment efficiently over large distances. It thereby allows them to keep up with their timelines and gain access to untouched markets around the world. Hence, air cargo plays a primary role in the global economy by connecting suppliers, manufacturers, and buyers from different parts of the globe.

The significance of air cargo cannot be overstated in the supply chain management. It provides unparalleled versatility when compared with other modes of shipping including sea and road. Despite its pricey nature, its security and ability to move goods rapidly make air cargo a top preference for transporting larger value and bulk shipments and time-sensitive ones. 

What Does Air Courier Mean?

A logistics service where individuals personally escort a document or certain goods either in their baggage or in hand to a designated location is known as an air courier. Quick, safe, reliable, and efficient deliveries can be expected when you choose an air courier. It is extremely useful when things are to be delivered in a short timeframe. Air couriers are also chosen as the mode of shipping when valuable items are to be shipped.

The air freight market is expected to recover after a three-year downtrend and reach approximately 210.3 billion USD by 2027.

Many companies regularly use air couriers to ship small things internally to ensure that their intellectual property is not lost or stolen. Also, in tandem, they employ logistics partners to outsource these priority deliveries. 

Distinction Between Air Cargo and Air Courier

The table below highlights the key differences between air cargo and air courier. 

Air cargoAir courier
Heavy products delivered via air through containers shipped on airplanes are called air cargo.Lighter products with a weight range of 0-30 kilograms that are shipped quickly by airplanes are known as air couriers.
The deliveries require a lengthy time.The deliveries can be done in short time spans
Products are shipped in bulk quantitiesIndividual parcels or documents can also be shipped
The quality is not hindered as special care for loading and unloading is takenThe quality of the parcel can be compromised when they are not personally delivered
Not suitable for time-sensitive deliveriesPerfect for time-sensitive delivered
Less expensive when compared to air courier but more expensive than other means of shippingMore expensive method of shipping when compared to others
Additional charges are levied for doorstep deliveryInclusive of doorstep delivery
Requires the additional costs of customs brokerageDoes not require additional charges for a customs brokerage

How Affordable is Air Cargo Compared to Air Courier?

It is well established that air cargo is cheaper than air courier. But are you not wondering how much cheaper air cargo is when compared to air courier? To be specific, air freighting done through the air cargo process is approximately half of the total costs of air courier. This is why smaller businesses prefer air cargo to air courier. The simplest method for an importer to make freighting affordable is by separating their goods to be imported individually from the vet supplies. 

The air cargo industry experienced a somewhat slow growth during the 2010s. However, the global volume of air freight rapidly increased afterward, with freight volumes reaching 65.6 million metric tons in 2021

The Operation of Air Cargo and Air Courier

Goods and shipments are transported in different methods in air courier and air cargo. The air courier process makes use of separate commercial or cargo planes to ship their shipments while the air cargo process makes use of domestic flights. It shows that the stocks are traveling with the passengers’ baggage in air cargo shipping. Furthermore, the transportation of air cargo lies between the airport from the sender’s location to the airport of the buyer’s location. Doorstep delivery will be charged separately.

Streamline Your International Shipping with CargoX:

A trustworthy international logistics service for swiftly transporting large shipments across borders is Shiprocket’s CargoX. They guarantee prompt B2B delivery and service over 100 international locations. They provide instant quotes, pick-up service within 24 hours, total visibility of shipments, a vast network of couriers, etc.


Air cargo and air courier are two methods of shipping that are superior to other forms of cargo transportation. Although air couriers are far more efficient than air cargo, the cost poses the biggest challenge for businesses. When you want to transport over 200 kilograms through an airplane, air cargo is a more viable option. Today, businesses also have the option to choose the sea method of shipping, but it is much slower than air shipping. When deadlines and delivery dates are stringent, air courier is the most suitable option. They ensure that your consignments are shipped most securely while adhering to schedules.

What are the different types of air cargo?

The different types of air cargo are general cargo, special cargo, perishable goods, dangerous goods, live animals, temperature-controlled goods, and more.

Which is better, air cargo or air courier?

A good rule of thumb to follow when choosing between air cargo and courier is to consider the volume of the shipment. If the shipment is small and you want it to arrive fast, you should use an air courier. For large packages or bulk shipments, air cargo is a more cost-effective option. In the end, it all comes down to how much you’re willing to pay.

What is the difference between air freight and air cargo?

Air freight and air cargo are often used interchangeably in the shipping industry. It turns out that the only difference between the two depends on the shipping company you are using.

What are the factors to consider when choosing a shipment method?

Several factors can influence one’s choice of shipment. These include cost and freight rates, size and weight of the parcel, transit time, and the type of package.

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