What Are the Height Restrictions for Air Freight Cargo

Air cargo shipments are always moved either in a Passenger Aircaract (PAX) or a Cargo Aircraft (CAO). The handling process in each case is different than the other. This includes the commodities shipped, as cargo aircraft is more flexible with what we can ship while PAX is more strict for security reasons. since there will be a lot of people on the same plane.

The same goes for the dimensions that are allowed. In “PAX”, shipments have more restrictions on the dimensions. Since most of the shipments are created, or palletized, the biggest challenge is usually in the height. In Passenger aircraft we have wide-bodied ( such as the Boeing 777 or Airbus A380) or narrow-bodied aircraft (like the MD 80 or A320), in both cases, shipment height should not exceed 160 cm as the door won’t allow more height.

Other factors should always be there in passenger and cargo aircrafts such as the shipping label which should indicate all details of the shipment. If this shipping label is not showing at least AWB numbers, the total number of pieces, labeled piece number, origin, destination, and shipper and consignee names, it will increase the chance of misplacing parts of the shipment which will create confusion and delay the clearance process at destination.

For this, a proper shipping label is a must no matter how the goods are being shipped.

Air Freight Services

There are two main types of air cargo services :

  1. General Air Cargo:
    These are the items that can be shipped without any special handling, special equipment, or any need for any climate control conditions. Such as apparel, furniture, books .. etc. It can also include some high-value cargo like jewelry and electronics.The price for general cargo in airfreight is usually lower than special cargo types, also most of the air cargo consolidations are made of general cargo only. If cargo is of high value, sometimes the air cargo price is a bit more expensive.Shipping labels for general cargo are kept to a minimum. Shipment details and maybe if it is a fragile piece or had to be kept in a certain direction at all times.
  1. Special Cargo :
    This is for items that require special handling or climate control and it comes in different types :

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Temperature Controlled :
These items require a special temperature to be maintained during the shipping process that is not within the current normal weather temperature. Like frozen meat that should be in -18 C or some fresh vegetables that should be kept between 4-8 C., Some exporters chose to ship it as general cargo and do proper packing with dry ice to keep the desired temperature at all times. Other exporters would think of shipping it into an “entertainer” it’s a ULD (Unit Load Device) that is specialized with temperature-controlled cargo.

No matter which way they chose, the shipping label should be done properly for this one. At least there should be the shipment details label, temperature controllable showing the range that temperature should be kept within. If the exporter decided to ship cargo using dry ice. They should follow a certain limit of dry ice weight otherwise and a proper dry ice shipping label to be placed on the cargo. Otherwise, it will be considered as a dangerous cargo as well.

Hazardous and Dangerous Cargo:
There are several types of hazardous and dangerous items. In general, it is put under 9 classes :
Class 1: Explosives
Class 2: Gases
Class 3: Flammable and Combustible liquids
Class 4: Flammable solids
Class 5: Oxidizing substances
Class 6: Toxic and infectious substances
Class 7: Radioactive materials
Class 8: Corrosives
Class 9: Misc. hazardous materials

Of course, not all dangerous and hazardous items are allowed to be shipped by air freight, even less with passenger aircraft.

Each one of the above-mentioned classes follows its packing procedures and material. It also follows certain shipping label structures or types. Especially when moving on a passenger aircraft, hazardous and dangerous material are not something to take lightly.

Live Animals :
Shipping live animals is not a simple process. These animals are mostly dear pets to their owners and if not they are still souls that should be handled with care. Therefore, there are special procedures and shipping labels to follow with live animal shipments. It’s always recommended to keep the animal in a crate that is big enough for them to stretch their legs or move during the flight time. Price per kilogram or pound for these crates is different than the general cargo and also shipping labels have to indicate that there is a live animal inside and placed on all sides of the crate.

Human Remains, Organs, and Tissue samples :
In the unfortunate event of a death in a foreign country, the human body has to be taken back home. This, of course, has to go through very strict procedures to make sure respect is shown and the body arrives safely to its destination and loved ones.

The same sensitivity goes to shipping any organs or tissue samples. These items are very delicate and require special handling and packaging. Mainly dry ice will be required. It is also a must to have proper shipping labels placed on these shipments to make sure they are handled properly. Human remains, organs and tissue samples will have specialized shipping labels to explain what’s inside also, it will show in which direction the items should be held and placed. This is plus the basic ones that indicate the shipment details.

Freight Class

In air cargo, the chargeable weight is what freight forwarders and airlines use to calculate the shipping costs. However, the price per kilogram is placed based on the freight class. There are three freight classes in air cargo: Minimum (M), Normal (N), and Quantity (Q). The Minimum freight class is for small-sized shipments with minimum freight charges, the Normal freight class is for all shipments that fall into the area of more than Minimum weight and less than 45 Kgs of chargeable weight, and the Quantity freight class is for all shipments weighing 45 Kgs and above.

Cargo Aircraft

Cargo Aircraft Only (CAO) is usually used for shipments that are of certain commodity types or have odd dimensions (especially in height). The cargo aircraft doesn’t only have doors to load the cargo but also the nose of the aircraft can open to allow larger size pieces to be loaded. In the United States, there are two types of exporters (known and unknown shipper). Any exporter that is not shipping out of the United States regularly is considered an “unknown shipper” and therefore, he has to use cargo aircrafts for his air freight needs. Of course, since there are no passengers on CAO, then the freight revenues are covering the entire cost of the flight, therefore, the freight cost per kilogram is higher than when using a passenger aircraft (PAX).

Shipping labels on CAO follow the same procedures and standards as the passenger aircraft.

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Karim Nasser

VP at Globitex with more than 15 years of experience in shipping and transportation in Air, Sea, Land freight, and courier. Now for a couple of years, more into digital freight. I believe in a saying “ in shipping, we deliver hope not only shipments”.