The 11 Steps of Flight Transportation

When your shipment needs to go far and fast, there’s no substitute for flight transportation. And for time-sensitive or expensive cargo, like medical supplies or electronics, it’s long been the mode of choice. In some situations, it’s even the least costly option.


Still, deciding to ship via air is the easy part. Flying a pallet is very different from flying a passenger. During its voyage, air cargo comes in contact with multiple people, each needing to approve or facilitate its passage. And unfortunately, every new player in the process increases your chance of delay and added cost.


Below are eleven steps crucial to air transport. While you’re welcome to try and tackle them yourself, most shippers enlist the help of a company that offers international freight forwarding services. Although we’ll review the entire air cargo process, the two most important steps are at the beginning: shipment and document preparation.

The 11 Steps of Flight Transportation

1. Shipment Preparation

Successful air shipments begin with a physical analysis of the goods themselves. First, you’ll need to measure the actual or net weight of your cargo.  


Next, you’ll determine it’s gross weight, which adds pallets, packing materials, and containers to the net weight. You’ll then need to calculate the volume of your shipment, which is, as you can guess, is its length x width x height. This information will be vital in filling out several documents. 


You’ll also want to keep the height of your shipment, if possible, below 60″ to avoid added freight costs. Otherwise, your goods will need to fly in the special hold of a cargo-only jet. Additionally, the pallet you choose should match that allowed at the final destination. For example, Europe uses a smaller standard pallet than the US, which is made of composite material instead of wood. 


2. Document Preparation

Just as customs act as gatekeepers for human travel, they also play a similar role in the movement of goods. 


The equivalent of a passport for your air shipment is a document called a certificate of origin (CoO). Before anything ships, you or your logistics partner must prepare and submit your CoO to the American World Trade Chamber of Commerce (AWTCC) for review. Once approved, the certificate travels with your shipment in an attached pouch along with other documentation. 


To customs officials, the CoO explains what you’re shipping and where it originates. It also details, according to international agreements, any reductions in duties or tariffs. 


The next vital document you’ll need is an import permit or license which is issued by the import authority at your country of destination. Most nations vary in their import laws and procedures, and without a license, your shipment is likely to be held at customs.


3. Air Freight Forwarder Booking

This step continues the chain of critical documents with your internal invoice and packing list. Even though your customer may already have them, copies of both must accompany your shipment.


Next, you need to complete the paperwork required from your freight forwarder. These may include a shipper’s letter of instruction or shipper’s booking instructions. These documents inform your freight forwarder of all the details of the shipment. 


4. Airway Bill Preparation

The next crucial document is the airway bill. You and your freight forwarder prepare this document, which provides all the required details to the airline or air freight carrier.


5. Transport to Warehouse Terminal

Now your shipment is ready to get moving! With the airway bill complete, your freight forwarder orders your cargo’s transport to the airport warehouse terminal. There, shipments arrive for air travel preparation. 


6. Export Customs Clearance

Before boarding a plane, your cargo is inspected by export customs officials to make sure it matches its description and details in its documents. After clearance, smaller shipments are sometimes consolidated with others to minimize transport costs. 


7. Cargo Loading (Origin Airport)

At this point, warehouse workers load your cargo into a unit load device or ULD. These large, oddly-shaped boxes are the air freight version of a shipping container. Their purpose is to maximize the cargo space in a plane’s underbelly. Once loaded, your shipment is finally ready for take-off. 


8. Cargo Unloading (Arrival Airport)

Touchdown! The aircraft carrying your shipment just landed at its destination. Time to unload and deliver, correct? Not just yet. Shortly after landing, the ULD containing your goods is unloaded and taken to the local terminal warehouse. 


9. Cargo Breakbulk

Once your cargo arrives at the local terminal warehouse, workers will breakbulk or separate it from other shipments. This action allows for proper customs inspection.


10. Destination Customs Clearance

In this crucial step, customs officers from the destination country inspect the certificate of origin, packing list, and all other documentation to validate the shipment.


Then, they collect any applicable tariffs or duties from the consignee or receiver of the shipment. As mentioned, this is where the proper documentation can ensure that your customer pays no more than necessary to import the shipment. 


11. Destination Delivery

After your shipment passes through customs and its tariffs are paid, it’s ready to be delivered. Typically, the freight forwarder arranges in advance for road transportation from the terminal warehouse to your customer’s loading dock.


Smooth Flight Transport Requires a Team

If the steps of air transport seem complicated, keep in mind that most companies don’t go it alone. Instead, they partner with a company that offers customized logistics solutions


Chances are, your core business is not outbound logistics. Like industrial-strength travel agents, companies like HLOGCAM help you handle the intricate planning, and detailed documentation required for flight transport. 


Are you looking to ship goods by air? Contact HLOGCAM today to consult with one of their experts. And even if your people or your company itself need to move, they can help with overseas moving, relocation, and storage!