Why is sea shipping cheaper than air shipping?


Industry Encyclopedia

Sea shipping costs less for the shipper
When you have a large freight shipment to transport across the globe, you have two main options: you can either ship by air or by sea. Sea shipping is almost always the cheaper option and, for the most part, the more environmentally-friendly option to boot. Therefore, for many, choosing sea shipping over air shipping is a no-brainer.

The real question is “why is sea shipping cheaper in the first place?” While one may think that the maintenance of cargo boats would be very expensive, the most important cost drivers in shipping are fuel and space. Boats, quite simply, use a lot less fuel and have a lot more space than airplanes. Thus, shipping by sea is cheaper.

Air shipping has advantages that drive up cost
There is another piece to this puzzle, though. Air shipping, though often more expensive, comes with advantages that are very attractive in certain business situations. First and foremost, air shipping is much faster. Planes travel far faster than boats will ever be able to.

Second, air shipping is typically more reliable when it comes to time constraints. Cargo ships are delayed by weather more often than planes are, which can lead to delays of days or even weeks. Sea shipping is still pretty reliable overall, but when you need exceptional reliability, air shipping is a must.

Because air shipping offers speed and reliability benefits, air freight companies could charge more than sea freight companies to ship the same amount of inventory. This would be true even if the cost for the freight companies was the exact same.