How to Ship Your Stuff by Air When Moving

Air Cargo
Cargo is loaded onto an airplane before a flight. Prasit photo / Getty Images

With increases in fuel costs, it's best to look at all moving options, keeping expense, convenience, and effectiveness in mind. Some decide a combination of transportation modes will work best for their particular situation. There are several alternative means to ship your things.

Prioritize Your Packages

Before you start digging out your calculator, make sure you've taken a full inventory of your belongings, listing the items that you'll be moving. Once you've made this determination, decide which items are absolute necessities, items you cannot live without, and which items you could do without for a couple of weeks or so.

Deciding moving priority will help determine the mode of transport you choose and the amount you'll be paying. Overnight shipping will cost far more than if you sent a package via ground transport, which could take a week or more depending on the distance traveled. Also, when requiring a quick delivery turnaround, the alternative modes of transport are severely limited.

Once you've decided which goods you'll be moving and when they need to be at their destination, now it's time to consider the options available. If you think moving by air is your best bet, consider the following factors.

Moving by Air Cargo

Several airlines offer cargo shipping services, including major carriers such as Delta, Continental, and Northwest. There are also companies whose sole purpose is to ship cargo around the world. These carriers include Air Lingus, TNT, and Atlas Express. Courier companies also offer flight cargo service with DHL, Emery, and UPS being the most popular.

To determine cost and shipping options, visit each company's website for online quotes, rules, regulations, and tariff information. Make sure you have calculated the dimensions of your packages and the weight.

If your bathroom scale does not suffice, take your packages to your local post office or purchase your own digital shipping scale. Most post offices will have a scale available for you to use or you can see a customer service representative for a quote on shipping your goods. The quote will include weight and dimensions. Keep this quote and use this as a guide for determining other shipping options. You may find yourself using the postal service instead of a private company.

Most air cargo companies take both size and weight factors into consideration when setting a price, while others will go by poundage alone. Before you book, check out the operator with the Better Business Bureau to ensure that your package will arrive safely.

Air Cargo Shipping Requirements

Also, make sure you ask specifically where your packages need to be before shipping and at what time. If booking with a passenger and cargo operator, such as Delta, you may need to have your items at the cargo loading area two to three hours in advance. If you're catching the same flight, allow yourself enough time to check in your cargo before you need to be at the gate. Usually, cargo is at a separate terminal or warehouse, so give yourself plenty of extra time.

If you've decided to ship your goods via air cargo, take a look at the carrier's rules before you start packing. Most carriers have very specific guidelines on what they will accept and what they won't, and how items should be packed. Most carriers will also require proper labeling, including to and from addresses, warnings, and any specific instructions. You will also be required to provide a detailed listing of what each package contains. Packages can be opened and inspected by the carrier, so make sure you're specific and accurate.

Air Cargo Glossary

As a newcomer to the air cargo industry, you may find yourself a little overwhelmed by cargo-speak, so use this handy guide to ensure you're speaking the same language.

  • Air Waybill: A non-negotiable document covering the contract between the shipper and the transporter.
  • Consignee: The person or company whose name appears on the Air Waybill as the receiver.
  • Continental United States: The 48 contiguous States, Alaska, and the District of Columbia.
  • Contiguous United States: The 48 adjacent States and the District of Columbia.
  • Legal holiday: Any national, state, or local legal holiday.
  • Seal: A fastening device used to secure the content of a container and when broken will show that the container or package has been opened.
  • Shipper (or consignee): The person or company whose name appears on the Air Waybill as the party contracting with the transporter for shipment of goods.