air shipping goods during the holiday rush

What was your experience in air shipping this holiday season? As an international freight forwarder since the early eighties, we have learned to notify our existing import and export shippers that are planning to ship goods via air or ocean freight around the holidays about the increased pitfalls.

Balancing Risk with Information

Whether good or bad, our forwarder’s first duty is information sharing. Shippers who are properly informed about all facets of their shipment will do better in the long run than the hoping for the best, fly by the seat of their pants, gambler type.

The Holiday Crunch

At the end of every year, we get shippers who need their shipments ASAP, more-so than any other time of year. Forwarders and others, such as the carriers (truckers, airlines or steam lines), customs, terminals, and the customhouse broker experience heavy volumes during the holiday season.

The question is how do they function under the increased volume and, more importantly, how can your shipment be impacted?

We had a scenario recently, which illustrates the downfalls of shipping and receiving a shipment during the holiday rush. Forwarders, customs, terminals and carriers alike work through the holidays with skeleton crews. The carrier’s capacities are maxed out with shipments that must take off before the end of their fiscal year, thus, stretching the system due to the fact that more freight is moving with less people to operate the vessels, terminal, customs, etc.

The Setup

Weeks prior to the holidays, we prepared an air freight bid for an importer here in the Los Angeles area. We priced machinery coming from Italy that was nearly 30 cubic meters in volume and had a gross weight of ,5685 kilos. Aside from pricing, we addressed the logistics involved in the air shipment and the choice of an all-freighter aircraft to accommodate the large air shipment.

We always convey, whether it is the end of the year or otherwise, the possibility of a delay created by a situation at the carrier’s end. Some forwarders will send new customers a freight contract that summarizes the phases, pricing, and responsibilities once they decide to book the cargo.

In other words, we take steps to clarify what expectations shippers should have.

The Italian supplier did his job dispatching the air shipment and provided the commercial invoice and packing list with the harmonized system. The Italian freight agent had the shipping documents ready and sent them over to us. Everything looked good and all parties were on standby to handle the shipment.

The Hangup

At the LAX airport, we tracked the MAWB (master airway bill number) to be sure the cargo was in-flight, which it was. The first problem had appeared when we realized that only 1/3 of the shipment landed. A few days later the second third showed up and, finally, the last of it, a few days after, taking an additional one week to retrieve the shipment in full.

The customer had a booking with a freighter for one flight. Unfortunately, due to the holiday crunch, which involved delays that act like a domino effect any time something goes wrong, it didn’t happen that way.

Being the freight forwarder, it was our objective to keep pressure on the airlines and to get accurate information regarding the freight arrival. Then, the airlines charged for storage on the first load as we had to wait for the entire shipment to land before customs clearance could be made.

Once everything was corrected and delivered, you could still be stuck with added storage fees, and miles of aggrivation.

Dealing with the reality of the holidays

Despite being diligent and forewarning of real possibilities of some delays or a customs inspection, all falling under the unexpected, people want somebody to take responsibility for it all.

There are two simple keys to remember:

  1. There is no such thing as a “guaranteed delivery”
  2. Forwarders are like your travel agency booking your next trip to Hawaii. When you finally fly there and the aircraft has a mechanical problem resulting with delays on the ground, Expedia isn’t the one you’re going to call for resolution. It will be the airline.

The shipping act of 1984 that was ratified and enacted by congress in 1998. Among many admiralty and maritime law guides, it expressively does not place any liability on the forwarders or carriers for delays.


If you need to ship close to the end of the year, plan accordingly for the imponderable end of the year revolving issues. If you can, delay to after the 1st of the year or ship early to prevent the frenzy. Meanwhile, ready yourself for your next shipments and have every single detail handled. Should you have questions to know how to ship, contact us at

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