Domestic Air Cargo Carriers 2021

When you visit an airline’s cargo website, the amount of information and content can feel overwhelming. The airlines provide detailed information highlighting their air cargo programs. While their platforms are improving and their booking portals are becoming more in sync with the way shippers are familiar with shipping, there is still so much people can miss that can improve their air freight shipping.

Who are the major domestic commercial airline carriers?

There are currently 5 major commercial airline carriers that provide domestic air freight services.

While international commercial airlines provide import and export services to major airports within the United States, they do not offer domestic airport to domestic airport freight services.

So who are these carriers and what are their freight specialities?

Alaska Air Cargo is the lifeline that keeps the state of Alaska operating. It services 21 different communities within Alaska from Juneau to Anchorage to Fairbanks to as far north as Barrow and even to the furthest western island tip of Adak. Their fleet consists of 300 planes, operating 1,200 daily flights to over 100+ destinations across North America. 

While Alaska Air Cargo does provide cross country shipping options, its speciality lies in Alaska, the northwest and west coast states, and provides 30 flights per day from the West Coast to Hawaii. While the freight may vary, major shipments include perishable goods like seafood and wild game being shipped out of Alaska to the continental 48 states. What’s shipped into Alaska includes medical supplies, vaccines, food, equipment, and all other essential items to keep the Alaskan communities going. They also provide an excellent service called Pet Connect to help ship domesticated animals. 

American Airlines Cargo, headquartered in Dallas / Fort Worth, Texas, services close to 200 airports within the United States. Their narrowbody and widebody networks ship over 100 million pounds of weekly cargo to cities across the United States, Europe, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia. 

American Airlines Cargo speciality is its robust network and expansive widebody fleet and that begins with its 7 major hubs DFW, LAX, ORD, JFK, PHL, CLT, and MIA. These hubs across the United States are utilized to maximize their nonstop widebody routes so that ORD, LAX, and DFW can service Asian countries of Japan (NRT, HND), Korea (ICN), China (PEK, PVG), Hong Kong (HKG), and Australia (SYD, AKL). 

The export network out of Miami (MIA) alone provides flights to every market American Airlines Cargo services in the Caribbean and Latin America which include: Mexico (CUN), Dominican Republic (PUJ), Puerto Rico (SJU), Ecuador (GYE), Peru (LIM), Brazil (GRU, GIG), Argentina (EZE, COR), Uruguay (MVD), and Chile (SCL).

The export network out of Philadelphia (PHL) alone provides flights to every market American Airlines Cargo services in Europe which include: Ireland (DUB), United Kingdom (MAN, LHR), France (CDG), Spain (BCN, MAD), Portugal (LIS), Germany ( FRA, MUC, TXL), Netherlands (AMS), Switzerland (ZRH), Italy (VCE, MXP, BLQ, FCO), Czechia (PRG), Hungary (BUD), and Greece (ATH). 

With this massive widebody network, American Airlines Cargo is able to capitalize on the shipment of ULD containers that can hold 2500 to over 10,000 pounds of goods in a single container. With the world racing to vaccinate itself from COVID-19, these widebody planes ship special temperature controlled containers to keep the vaccines at the exact required temperature necessary. American Airlines Cargo specifically outlines “How to book the COVID-19 vaccine”.

Delta Airlines Cargo, headquartered in Atlanta, GA operates a fleet of over 800 aircraft with more than 15,000 flights daily. With an industry-leading global network, Delta and the Delta Connection carriers offer service to 314 destinations in 54 countries on six continents. Delta Airlines Cargo offers the largest network of any airline both domestically and internationally. 

Delta Airlines Cargo offers three types of air freight cargo services for its customers - Express, Standard Freight, and Speciality - but what all does that entail?

Standard Freight provides the shipper with flexibility and value. Delta Airlines Cargo’s domestic service Standard is an affordable solution to ship any piece of cargo, up to 300 pounds per piece, to any of its 200+ locations across the United States via its narrowbody fleet. Delta Airlines Cargo’s international consolidated freight service is General to 177 countries worldwide.

Delta Airlines Cargo’s Express service can be broken down into eight different express service types for domestic and international air freight shipments. 

  • DASH® Critical is their next flight express service to help ship emergency medical equipment, live organ transplants, human tissue, legal documents, passports, machinery and more.
  • DASH® is their small package same day express service with a guarantee that one’s shipment is available for recovery within one hour of the flight’s actual arrival time or you can receive a refund up to 50% of the freight charges.
  • DASH® Door-to-Door is their same day express pickup and delivery service that allows Delta Cargo to ship and deliver time sensitive packages door to door with the assistance of Roadie, a logistics company. 
  • DASH® Heavy is their domestic large package express service that helps those move pieces that exceed the shipping restrictions of the normal DASH® service.
  • EXPRESS is their international version of DASH® for small package express service to help shippers move smaller freight shipments all over the world.
  • EXPRESS Heavy is their international version of DASH® Heavy for large package express service to help shippers move oddly shaped or very heavy shipments all over the world.
  • CRITICAL is their international next flight express service, similar to DASH® Critical backed by 100% service level guarantee. 
  • CRITICAL Heavy is their international large package express service utilizing its premium capacity allocation feature that allows shipments to move on the next flight available.

Finally, Delta Airlines Cargo’s Specialty shipments are truly items of importance. 

Southwest Airlines Cargo, headquartered in Dallas, TX at the Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL), thrives on its ability to provide effortless shipping with fast, efficient service. With over 4,000 flights per day, Southwest Airlines Cargo provides an unparalleled domestic cargo service that gets your shipment onto the plane and into your customers hands with minimal effort.

But what rules and policies are in place that allow Southwest to so seamlessly ship freight across the United States?

Southwest Airlines Cargo services all but 8 states within the United States with a heavy presence in California, Texas, Florida, the midwest, and up and down the East Coast. Unlike other airlines that utilize the ticket counter and baggage claim in smaller markets to process receiving and releasing of shipments, Southwest utilizes a dedicated cargo facility at each of the 100+ airports it services

What this allows them to do is provide a seamless service and transfer of cargo from receiving, to loading onto the plane, making connecting flights, and then releasing the cargo at its final destination. Drop-off and recovery cutoff times range from 45 - 60 minutes for their express service Next Flight Guaranteed and 90 minutes for their standard service. No other airline can provide you with that close of a turnaround for dropping your cargo off and picking it up. The time required for cargo to make a connecting flight is just 60 minutes while no other airline allows for a layover under 2 hours. 

Additionally, Southwest Airlines Cargo is continuing to expand its network within the United States with flights from airports that they normally would not fly into. Southwest Airlines Cargo just announced that it is now servicing daily nonstop flights from MIA to BWI, HOU, TPA, and MDW. This is major news because Southwest Airlines would service Fort Lauderdale (FLL) just north of the MIA airport, but never MIA. Its expansion is a direct result of its continuing customer growth. 

United Airlines Cargo, headquartered in Houston, TX, is one of the leading airlines for shipping huge containers because of its fleet of over 700 Boeing and Airbus aircraft. United Airlines Cargo operates six different jet types that have a total cargo capacity of over 100,000 lbs, with two that can carry a total cargo capacity of over 150,000 lbs. But why does it matter that United flies such large capacity jets? 

United Airlines Cargo’s fleet flies 14 different jet types in which half of those accept ULD Containers. What this means is that United has positioned itself to be a leading air freight carrier for Temperature Controlled containers that are vital for shipping vaccines, pharmaceuticals, insulin, medical devices, biologics, and biotechnology. So what all does United’s Temperature Controlled program entail?

It starts with United Airlines Cargo’s commitment to enhancing their cargo facilities across the globe to meet the storage needs that come with shipping temperature sensitive freight. There are 77 stations in key pharma markets across the globe that are United TempControl stations that are all certified and have received specialized training on pharmaceutical handling according to IATA Temperature Control Regulations. What’s even more impressive is that these 77 TempControl handling locations are spread out across the globe with 22 in North America, 5 in South America, 14 in Asia/Pacific, and 36 in Europe/Middle East/India.

What benefits does the United Airlines Cargo’s TempControl Program provide its customer base? 

United leases 16 different container types including CSafe, DoKaSach, Envirotainer, Skycell, Sonoco, and va-Q-tainer to help shippers with their active and passive pharmaceutical shipments. United’s services include priority boarding, booking management, just-in-time loading, temperature controlled storage, customer tailored SOP, temperature monitoring, and thermodynamic management.

Whether the temperature needs are cool or controlled room temperature, United’s TempControl shipments receive priority handling from the facility, to the aircraft, and then back.