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Air Cargo Preparation and Packaging


15th November 2023

cargo loading into a cargo airplane

In the bustling world of global trade, air cargo is the jet engine propelling products across the world. During transit, your shipment undergoes multiple handling processes and may even bear the weight of other packages. Therefore, it’s essential to ensure your packaging is strong enough to handle air transportation and any possible damages.

Poorly packed containers have been estimated to result in over $6 million in yearly damages to supply chains. In light of this alarming statistic, we’ve crafted this article to serve as your guide to understanding the fundamental aspects of air cargo, with a focus on preparation and packaging.

What is air cargo charter?

Air cargo charter involves renting an entire aircraft exclusively for transporting goods, unlike standard air freight shipments that may combine cargo from various senders. This option is tailored for organizations needing customized air freight services and is especially beneficial for those dealing with goods of varying sizes, sensitive cargo, or deliveries to remote locations with limited flight schedules. It offers more control to businesses, governments, or NGOs over their air cargo, reducing potential restrictions and delays.

Success in air cargo relies on meticulous planning and packaging to ensure cargo withstands the challenges of air travel, including turbulence and high altitudes. It’s essential to recognize that air cargo isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. In this article, we’ll explore various cargo types, such as perishables and dangerous goods, each with its unique packaging requirements. But, before we dive into the specifics, it’s essential to find out the reasons behind choosing these services in the first place.

Benefits of choosing cargo services

Air cargo charter serves as the preferred mode of transportation for various industries, such as interior design, construction, electronics, and the automotive sector. It is also a favored option for organizations dealing with high-value items, live animals, oil, gas, and hazardous materials. Now, let’s take a closer look at the key benefits:

  • Reliability — air freight is less affected by external factors, and airlines follow strict schedules for departure and arrival.
  • Speed — cargo planes exclusively assigned to a single route can fly directly to the destination, eliminating layovers or transfers, which substantially reduces transportation time.
  • Global coverage — most cargo carriers have worldwide networks, with the top ones flying to more than 300 destinations.
  • Capacity — shippers can select the right aircraft for their cargo, ranging from smaller planes for urgent and time-sensitive items to larger planes for heavy, bulky, or oversized cargo..
  • Security — senders have more control over the security of their cargo since the aircraft exclusively transports their goods, reducing the risk of theft, damage, or loss.
  • Tracking — air freight service providers offer web-based aircraft tracking, allowing you to monitor the real-time status of your cargo from the moment it departs until it arrives.
  • Viability — when compared to other transportation methods, air charter emerges as the ultimate end-to-end solution, offering clients greater control over their cargo shipments.

How to choose the right packaging materials

Cargo loading into a cargo airplane

The options for safely packaging your products are quite diverse, but there are several main categories to be aware of. Each of them has a distinct purpose and is suitable for different types of products and shipping needs.

Bubble wrap sheets. The small air pockets offer protection from bumps and other impacts. These sheets take up very little space, making them perfect for tightly packed boxes that require minimal protection.

Air pocket inserts. Air pockets in strip form create one large bubble, ideal for reducing the need for various box sizes and adding filling without extra weight.

Polystyrene peanuts. It’s a traditional packing choice that provides plenty of cushioning for products and acts as effective insulation for items requiring refrigeration, such as food and certain medications.

Corrugated fiber-board boxes. Often mistaken for cardboard cartons or boxes, CFB containers are the most frequently used type of packaging. Beware that high humidity levels of around 90% can significantly reduce the strength of CFB packaging by up to 60%.

Air freight pallets. Typically made out of wood or plastic, pallets enable the movement of shipments without direct contact with packages, thereby reducing the risk of damage.

All considered, the choice of packaging materials should depend on the type of products you’re transporting. For instance, liquids need to be packed securely in containers and then put into boxes that are tightly sealed and strong enough to prevent any leakage. Also, approximately 20% of such box should be left unfilled.

Tips for packing & labeling your cargo

cargo air charter logistics


Standard air freight has a maximum size of 2.44 x 3.15 meters. While you can transport longer or wider cargo, special equipment may be required for such shipments.


According to general air freight security regulations, your cargo must undergo inspection before export. The inspection may occur in one of three ways:

  • Piece-level examination: Each individual box or item is inspected by a Regulated Air Cargo Agent (RACA).
  • Consolidated form: Homogeneous cargo is placed on pallets, with boxes stacked and wrapped in plastic or loaded into unit load devices (ULDs).
  • Approved known consignor: Cargo from these companies does not need further examination before being loaded onto an aircraft.


If your items are fragile or should only be placed on top, be sure to clearly indicate these instructions on the packaging. The same applies to dangerous goods, which must bear labels compliant with international regulations.


Your labels must have correct and complete details, including sender and receiver information, addresses, and contacts. Use clear and neat printing, and try to avoid handwriting.


Global standards like those set by IATA (International Air Transport Association) cannot be overlooked. Also, today it’s highly recommended to use barcodes for tracking and scanning purposes to improve accuracy in the handling process.

Dangerous goods and hazardous materials

careful handling of fragile cargo

Transporting dangerous goods involves complying with specific regulations for each mode of transport. Among these modes, air transport poses the highest risk of harm, injury, and damage in case of incidents. Therefore, strict adherence to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air is crucial.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), representing major airlines worldwide, has published (and constantly updates) the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations, which are based on the ICAO Technical Instructions. These regulations place responsibilities on all parties involved in the transportation of dangerous goods by air, including operators, shippers, freight agents, handling agents, couriers, and passengers.

And while air shipments offer faster delivery than sea transport, there are still limitations on the permitted volumes and package sizes for dangerous cargo, not to mention that certain dangerous goods are prohibited in air transport altogether.

Perishable cargo handling

Perishable cargo comprises items with a limited shelf life that can spoil if not handled properly. This category includes items like fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood, flowers, and dairy products. Such goods don’t have some type of ‘universal’ shipping approach — each type of item has its unique requirements.

However, proper practices in shipping perishables are vital for consumer safety since these goods often end up in people’s homes and/or are consumed directly. To ensure the safety of your products, your supply chain must excel in the following:

  • Being aware not just of the vulnerability of your cargo, but also the physical route that the cargo takes from origin to destination.
  • Clearly labeling the perishables and packing cautiously to endure at least 72 hours of transit times.
  • Using coolants like gel packs to maintain the condition of your shipment. If it’s necessary to store the shipment in a lower temperature, the sender is responsible for stating this on the waybill.


Inadequate packaging remains one of the key causes of cargo damage, and a major factor underlying many insurance claims. Therefore, it’s crucial that you’re knowledgeable and ready to prepare your shipment safely and efficiently.

Start by consistently following the guidance provided by your air carrier, as they are well-versed in the applicable rules and regulations. Always secure insurance coverage to safeguard your investment in case of unforeseen issues. Next, maintain a copy of the air waybill for your records, as it plays a vital role in tracking your shipment. And, finally, before shipping, meticulously inspect your cargo to verify that it is correctly packed and labeled to minimize any potential issues during transportation. These steps are instrumental in ensuring a smooth and trouble-free air freight experience.

Are you exploring air cargo charter service options?

Chapman Freeborn specializes in logistics planning for various cargo air charter services, managing the entire process, including any special handling requirements you might have. If you’re interested in chartering a cargo plane, contact our expert team at [email protected].


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