Standard vs. Priority Airfreight – Deciphering the Differences

In a recent Laufer podcast episode, Thomas Marano, National Director of Business Development, Airfreight & e-Commerce, explained some of the differences in airfreight service and why it’s often difficult for shippers to distinguish and choose. In today’s chaotic freight market, it is more important than ever to understand the types of airfreight services available and which options will best fit your requirements. We have summarized some highlights from the conversation in the Q&A below.

Thomas, why are differences in service options so difficult for most shippers to understand?

Thomas Marano: Most of the time, customers are shopping for rates, so many forwarders generally default to quoting a general service, at the cheapest cost, or at least the cheapest reliable cost.  Also, shippers frequently do not know that other options are available. Often shipments that have a hard fixed deadline may still move on general service, not because the customer would have chosen general service but because the shipper was never given the option.

In general, what is the difference between shipping standard vs. priority airfreight?

Thomas Marano: When cargo is booked as general or standard service, almost everything else is prioritized over these shipments, and this is usually determined by commodity. So dangerous goods take precedence as well as live animals, perishables, passenger luggage. Many shippers are surprised to learn that passenger luggage takes priority over general cargo but it’s important to remember that a lot of cargo, especially on the export side, moves primarily on passenger aircraft as opposed to dedicated freighters.

Knowing that certain commodities already take priority over general cargo, it can basically be said that these specified commodities are already moving as priority shipments – therefore, any other type of commodity is a good candidate for priority air freight service. In most cases, if a shipment has a hard deadline, or if there is no flexibility in delivery requirements, then shipping that product should be considered a priority service, whether it is cotton balls or diamond earrings.

OK, knowing this, what advantages should shippers expect from a priority service and how is it priced differently from standard?

Thomas Marano: There are several points to consider. First, certain carriers may have multiple levels of priority service, enabling shippers the option to move up or down a scale on how much of a priority the cargo needs to ship. It also depends on the destination and the size of the shipment.  $10 per kilo is not much on a 10-kilo air freight shipment, but it is a game changer if the shipment is 1,000 kilos.

Other priority service advantages include getting guaranteed space on the intended flight, which means priority loading for that aircraft, or at least priority over other general cargo. Since priority service comes at a higher cost, the airlines have   an incentive to load that cargo.  If it is not loaded, they will refund a certain amount money back, or revert to the general rate. How this is handled depends on the airline.

Additionally, most of the airlines have dedicated receiving docks at the terminals for priority freight.  With terminals now experiencing trucks waiting lines up to 10 hours or more, dedicated receiving docks can be a definite advantage for time sensitive cargo.  A truck with priority freight gets to go to the front of the line and drop off that freight. Upon destination arrival, the cargo also gets off loaded and positioned at a dedicated dock to be turned over to the trucker. In essence, priority cargo is last-on and first-off the aircraft.

What additional suggestions and recommendations can you share with airfreight shippers?

Thomas Marano: It’s important for shippers to understand that General Cargo bookings with an airline carrier are not guaranteed. Many shippers have a misunderstanding that, because courier bookings are guaranteed (i.e.: with UPS or FedEx), that the same guarantee applies to general bookings with commercial airlines, which is not the case.

When requesting an airfreight quote or making a booking, make sure to provide the expected final delivery deadline. And whether there is flexibility with this date or if it must absolutely deliver within a certain date. If specific requirements regarding receipt and delivery are needed, this information must be relayed to the freight forwarder so that appropriate options can be presented.

Any final thoughts?

Thomas Marano: Space issues are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. Expectations are airfreight capacities will not be fully recovered for another three to five years. Shippers must be prepared for these market conditions and know that shopping for the best price, is not always the best solution.

There are options out there so it is important to have dialog with your forwarder to make sure they are asking the questions that they should be asking you to ensure they handle your shipment the way it needs to be handled. There is no way for any freight forwarder to meet and exceed your expectations if those expectations are not fully laid out There is nothing worse than paying for airfreight and the shipment does not go the way that it was expected.

Make sure to partner with a forwarder that you trust and can communicate with. Communication has always been important even before the pandemic and now, with the current market conditions, even more so. Airfreight is a high-paced, high-stressed, and sometimes a messy business. Partnering with the right provider will help ensure that your shipments are handled without issues.


There are options – from premium carriers, alternative routes, and priority/guaranteed services. Let us know the challenge you are facing, and we can find the right solution for you. Reach out to Thomas Marano, National Director of Business Development, Airfreight & eCommerce.