Factors Which Influence How Long a Shipment Takes

Many of the points raised below are based on airfreight but will translate equally as well when dealing with sea freight.

The factors that can delay a shipment are very diverse, listed below are just a few shipping time factors:

  • Suppliers:

Suppliers are sometimes unavailable or unreachable at the time of shipping arrangements.

  • Public Holidays:

Public holidays which are not always listed.

  • Stock availability:

In most cases stock is not on hand and must be manufactured. Be sure to ask your supplier what their production times are before placing your order and making payment.

  • Production delays:

As with anything, production of your goods can suffer delays, for any number of reasons. Suppliers may not always be upfront about delays and the reasons for them which in turn places much more pressure on you and the rest of the supply chain.

  • Time zones:

Due to different time-zones across the globe, time delays can occur when communicating with your suppliers. This is also a factor when a shipment has to be arranged by the carrier/ transport company as the communications will be with the carrier at place of load.

  • Transport:

Transport delays can occur when the  product requires specialised transportation. Suppliers can be situated long distances from the agent warehouse and collection could take longer, or it can simply be that there are too many collections and no vehicles available at any given time.

  • Carrier Warehousing:

Goods are collected and taken to the carrier warehouse whereby the goods will get weighed and measured to make sure that the correct shipping details are booked. There are numerous parcels and shipments being handled daily, so it will depend on the amount of cargo moving through the warehouse on that day.  Staff members won’t always be immediately available to measure and weigh.

  • Customs clearance at point of load:

All shipments must be customs cleared prior to departing out of said country and sometimes these customs clearances do take longer than usual as there may be a customs stop or inspection.

  • Flight/ Vessel bookings:

Schedules are dependent on which booking one is able to secure for both Air & Sea shipments.

With Air freight shipments flights could be fully booked and one has to wait for another flight.  Other flights only depart on certain days and then, should a flight be booked the airline may simply omit the parcel and roll it over to the next available flight for departure.  All bookings are made provisionally which means at any given time the flight details and departure date can still change.

Some flights are not direct meaning that it will fly via another airport and then to the final destination. This gives further rise to incidents where “connection flights” are missed.

  • Port delays:

Sometimes airlines and/ or ports experience bad weather which makes it impossible to load the goods, or for the flight to depart.

  • Customs clearance at Destination:

Customs clearances can take up to 24-48 hours or longer prior to customs receiving your entry. In some cases there are delayed responses from customs, this could be for any number of reasons. Customs may request more or other documents over and above what has been provided. Insufficient documents can lead to delays in customs clearance.

  • Exams/ Border Stops:

There are various parties who can stop a shipment [see Authority Stops].

  • Drawing cargo:

A registered officer drives through to the nominated depot/ airline to submit documents to a release desk.  Once documents are received he then queues and waits to draw the cargo. This can range anything from 1 – 5 hours at a time, depending on how busy the airline will be at any given time.

  • Final delivery

Final delivery can suffer delays as well. This could range from breakdowns to traffic stops to traffic congestion and even getting lost on route to delivery point.



Scheduling enough time for your products to arrive is critical for managing your own customers expectations. Plan ahead as far as you can and work with suppliers to constantly update the final manufacturing/ completion date accordingly.

When your delivery is delayed, be patient, and communicate consistently with your freight forwarder. Make sure you have all the information available, so that you can communicate honestly and directly with your production, customers, retailers or whomever the delay may affect.  No matter how well planned there is always a chance that your shipment will suffer some sort of delays, it is paramount that you set realistic targets and manage your own expectations.


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