A Comprehensive Guide to Air Freight Procedures

In its most basic definition, transportation is picking any product or material from the desired place and delivering it to the selected point at the desired time. Nowadays, transportation takes place by air, land, railways, and the ocean. Land and railways are among the oldest types of logistics. Also, air freight has been a frequently preferred type of transportation recently. All types of transportation serve the same purpose, but distinct differences exist. Air freight can deliver goods or products to any point in the world in a much faster time than other types of transport. Besides, this type of transport is generally used between long distances and is also preferred for transferring sensitive products.

Air freight is the most preferred type of transportation in import and export transactions. This type of transport has some processes. If you prefer air freight, we recommend following the guide to air freight procedures we will discuss in this article. Otherwise, this simple process can become complicated for you. Let's examine the procedures of air freight in depth.

Step-by-Step Air Freight Procedures

Air freight ensures that the commodities reach the desired point fastest and most efficiently. Nowadays, trade goods that make up more than 35% of global trade in value are transported by air. Also, thousands of planes take off every day around the world to be a part of international trade. In this respect, there are cargo handling stages for air transportation, which is an essential part of the supply chain.

Cargo handling consists of many stages such as loading the commodities on the plane at the departure airport, unloading them at the destination and delivering them to the buyer. All of these stages are included in the Master Operations Plan (MOP). The MOP describes the key processes and sub-processes of air cargo from the sender to the receiver.

Step 1: Planning Shipping Process

The first stage of the cargo handling process starts with planning shipments. Proper planning ensures that all processes of air transportation are smooth. Firstly, it is necessary to reserve space on the plane in advance for the goods to be shipped.


The obligations of the buyer and seller in import and export transactions carried out through air freight should be determined before the operation. The modes of delivery and the obligations of the parties in international trade are defined by Incoterms. Choosing the most appropriate term for the sender and receiver is an important planning stage.

Prepare Commercial Documents 

Certain important documents cover customs clearance and all other tasks. Completing these documents in full is essential for the smooth completion of the shipment. The commercial documents are as follows:

Foreign Currency Invoice

It is one of the most important documents of transportation. This document states from whom the items are purchased and the terms between the buyer and seller.

Certificate of origin

The document shows the country of origin and the country of destination of the goods. In addition, if there is a free trade agreement between the country to which you will export or import the goods and your own country, this document must be prepared to be exempt from customs duties.

Packing List

It gives information about all the details of the cargo.

Dangerous Good Form 

For dangerous goods classified by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) or the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the relevant dangerous goods forms must be completed.

Air Waybill 

The air waybill is a legally enforceable transport document issued by the carrier, containing information about the goods being transported. The document contains comprehensive information about the content of the shipment, the sender and receiver, terms and conditions, and other details. Air waybill is a standard form given to interested parties by the International Air Transport Association.

Step 2: Requirements for a Shipment to be Ready for Carriage

Some steps must be met for shipments to become eligible for air freight. The first of these steps is to check the goods or products for security. After everything is checked, all information needs to be brought to standards. The relevant standards are:

  • Carrier requirements,
  • Local export rules and regulations,
  • Rules and regulations of the transit airport,
  • Import regulations of the destination country.

Step 3: Cargo is Ready for Transport

Air cargo and ground services personnel receive the shipments that are made suitable for transportation. Then, they prepare the cargo for flight. In addition, goods left on a transit aircraft are considered transit cargo. Transit cargoes pass through security checks and x-ray devices. In addition to all these, piece counting is also performed for cargo integrity.

Step 4: Shipments are Loaded onto the Airplane

The products ready for shipment are loaded onto the plane, taking into account all the information. One of the most critical points of air freight is properly transporting the right cargo. Therefore, it should be determined which aircraft and ULD the shipment should be transported with. In this way, the transportation process is smoother and significant advantages are achieved in the cost of transportation.

The necessary ULDs are made ready so that the flight is not delayed. All loading operations must be carried out under protocols. Once the cargo is loaded onto the aircraft, it must be confirmed that all steps follow the electronic Flight Manifest. After this stage, the cargo takes off toward the supplier. 

Step 5: Unloading Cargo Process

The procedures for unloading goods transported by air have fewer stages than the loading process. However, there are some regulations that cargo and ground operations personnel must follow. Ground handling personnel follow ramp safety protocols when unloading cargo from the aircraft. These protocols are essential to reduce accidents and minimize potential problems. According to the IATA Cargo Handling Manual, the steps to be followed to unload air cargo are as follows:

  • Unload and ship to the warehouse,
  • Check-in shipments,
  • The arrival of shipments,
  • Deliver shipments to shippers.

Final Step: Delivery of Cargo 

After the cargo reaches the location requested by the receiver, the goods are transferred to the vehicle center to ensure the safety of the cargo. Finally, the freight operator picks up the load and delivers it to the buyer's final destination.