When reviewing a commercial airline’s cargo website, it can be difficult as there is so much information presented on the home page and layers and layers of detailed information buried within the site. But how do you start and what information is absolutely essential to understand how to ship freight via commercial airlines.
Are you a Known Shipper with each airline? Alaska Air Cargo, American Airlines Cargo, Delta Airlines Cargo, Southwest Airlines Cargo, and United Airlines Cargo all require that you register with their companies, verify that you are a TSA approved known shipper and then they create an account number and profile for your company.
Once you have an account set up with the airline, you can then access their online booking platforms and see how to book an air freight shipment. But how do you know what commodities you can and cannot ship, service type, rates and surcharges, facility hours, cutoff and recovery times, layover rules, schedules and then finally booking the flight and the tracking capabilities provided by the airline?
For the most part, what is shipped via commercial airlines is generally time sensitive goods. You wouldn’t ship crates of garlic from MEX to ORD, it’s too expensive and trucking it is cost effective and can be done within a few days. But, if you need to provide a specific automotive part to someone who is out of stock or doesn’t carry it often, it’s worth shipping it via air carrier.
Major product categories of goods shipped into automotive, electronics, perishable goods - i.e. flowers and horticulture, foodstuffs, seafood, and tropical fish aquatic plants - high value, medical equipment and supplies, pharmaceuticals, biogenetics, human remains, printed material, live animals, and everything else falls under general cargo.
Airlines also list what goods you cannot ship and properly outline a list of restrictions when shipping dangerous goods.
Airlines offer different service types with a standard and expedited service that apply to some or all commodities that they ship. The service type is important to consider when selecting a flight because it not only guarantees priority if applicable, but there are rules such as cutoff and recovery times that apply to your shipment based on what service level you purchase.
You may not always need Southwest Airlines Cargo’s Next Flight Guaranteed option, but when you do, you know your shipment is getting on the next flight out.
United Airlines Cargo’s LifeGuard service delivers vital medical shipments with expedited and efficient same day care.
For smaller shipments that are 100 lbs or less Delta Airlines Cargo provides its DASHⓇ service, Alaska Airlines Cargo offers its GoldStreak Package Express, and American Airlines Cargo offers its Priority Parcel Service (PPS) for time sensitive shipments.
The question is though, will the airport closest to you allow you to ship a specific commodity and service type or are their limitations?
Every commercial airline carrier is different with what information they provide about facilities, but the following five examples of each airline LAX demonstrate cargo facility information that is relatively standard regardless of the airline.
Additionally, airlines assign airports to zones which directly corresponds with how they price shipments between two airports.
Rates and Surcharges
Airlines offer a comprehensive breakdown of their pricing structures. Rates are calculated based on a variety of factors.
Surcharges vary depending on the airline but the three major surcharges applied to domestic shipments include fuel, security, and screening surcharges. Delta Airlines Cargo lists their surcharges while Southwest Airlines Cargo states that their surcharges are built into their rates.
Flight Schedules, Booking, Tracking
Commercial airlines schedules are released on a monthly basis. This is due to seasonal routes being open / closed depending on on the calendar month.
In order to track a shipment, you will need to have the air waybill number assigned to your shipment.
At this point, you should feel comfortable using an airline’s booking system to review flights, pricing, hours, and successfully book a shipment.