When is Cargo too Heavy for Air Freight?


You would think this an easy question to answer. A cargo shipment service will provide customers with size and weight restrictions, and the cargo is too heavy when it exceeds them, right? In theory, this is how it works, but there are many complicating factors that make the reality a bit different. Even experts in freight and logistics can sometimes find this a tricky question to answer for a specific cargo load precisely because more information is needed.

Once the question is answered, then the usual route is to switch to sea or land freight. For international shipping, the alternative is a combination of both sea and land freight. And even if the cargo makes it onto the plane, there is also the transportation from the airport to the destination to consider too. What may have been light enough for air travel might be too heavy for the truck that completes the cargo’s journey.

Preferred Shipping, a DHL Express Reseller and international ecommerce shipping experts, have some good advice where this is concerned. You should work out at what weight your cargo is considered “heavy”. This doesn’t mean that it will then be too heavy for air freight, but it means that a different type of air freight might have to be used.

For small- to mid-sized shipments, the cargo could go by an ordinary cargo plane – or even a passenger plane. If you find you need to rule out these possibilities, then it’s time to start seriously thinking about your cargo’s weight and whether it can make the precise journey you had in mind.

Price Per Unit Weight

For the majority of shipments, we’re talking about a price per unit weight for any given cargo. This is usually by the kilogram or the pound, and it is this information that a quote from a shipping service will offer you. That means it is wise to shop around for several quotes before settling on a shipment service.

These quotes will, of course, vary. However, it is possible to put an upper limit on cargo you can ship by passenger aircraft, for example. To do this, we can consider the largest passenger aircraft currently in operation. This is the Airbus A-380, which has a belly load of around 84,200 kgs. But remember, this is hardly likely to take the form of one single shipment. And there are also the dimensions of the doors to consider.


The dimension limit on cargo shows us that it is also vital to consider the size of the cargo. The size will then suggest a rough figure for the maximum weight. This is all information that will be supplied in any quote from a shipment service and so, again, it is very wise to defer to this.

Beyond Passenger

But what about specialized cargo aircraft? If you need to use one of these, then you can consider your cargo “heavy”. The largest cargo plane currently in operation is the massive Antonov AN-225, with a capacity of the 250,000 kgs. Nevertheless, once we get to this end of the scale, the pricing works differently.

Sometimes it might be per unit weight, other times it could be a flat rate based on dimensions, and then it could be done by lots, which is in turn highly dependent on the destination airports and the time of shipping.

So, it’s a complicated matter ascertaining how heavy is too heavy, but if all the quotes you have found state a maximum weight below that of your cargo, then it could be time to consider ships and trucks.

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