Air Freight During Peak Season

Little known fact, a very large percentage of air freight cargo travels in the bellies of passenger planes and not always in cargo planes as one might expect. This is done in order to maximise airline profits, simultaneously minimising air freight cost (among other reasons). Normally it is a win-win scenario but when it comes time for peak season (when most people are taking holidays) it can become more of a hindrance than a help.


Other than cargo which is subject to specific air traffic controls more often than not, cargo will travel on a passenger plane. In many cases there is simply not enough demand to fill an entire cargo plane, for a particular route, or in some cases it is not a viable option for neither the airline nor the consignee (you). Often cargo will in fact travel on more than one particular plane or in nonsensical directions, on route to its final destination, being subjected to “connecting flights,” “stopovers” and more, much the same as the people on the same route.  This is partly the reason why there is so much handling with an air freight shipment and almost always the reason when air freight shipments suffer delays.


Many forwarders/ service providers have what is known as Blocked Space Agreements with the airlines which is essence can be viewed as “pre-booked” space. The problem however is that said space is not guaranteed by the airline and almost always subject to offloads against “priority cargo.” Priority:  express shipments, live animals, perishable cargo, valuable cargo, vulnerable cargo, human remains and of course passenger luggage (allotted and excess). There is of course preference for larger Blocked Space Agreements, although these are a little less official (for obvious reasons). Most important, for the title of this article, is the passenger luggage.


It stands to reason that the more people are flying over any given period the more luggage and or belongings will be traveling at the same time. The more luggage, the less free space there is for cargo. Compounding the problem is the unpredictability of the passengers or the rather the difficulty is predicting/ calculating how much they will be bringing along with them. Fair enough they too are allotted a certain amount of space but if airlines saved the full amount space for every passenger, they will undoubtedly lose revenue as they would be travelling with half empty cargo holds. Conversely there is of course every chance that the full allocation (and more) of space is used by every passenger. The solution is to make cargo bookings, subject to availability.  In other words it’s yours if it’s still there when you get there. Therein lies the added difficulties of shipping during peak season.


What then is the solution, or moral of the story? You need to manage your expectations as well as those who may be affected by your deadlines. Speak to your industry expert and explore all of your options. Many times there is a speedy solution albeit a more costly one. Standard transit times do not apply during peak seasons so wherever possible, avoid importing-exporting during these times. There is no substitute for planning. Planning correctly and or around the industry difficulties will go a long way in managing your supply lines and subsequently cementing your customer relationships.