Air Freight Packaging Requirements At A Glance

documents used in international tradeuirements

Air Freight Packaging Requirements – Introduction

Safety in transport is of primary importance to all the parties involved, either directly or indirectly. This important factor begins with packaging materials and the concept of packaging itself. Air freight packaging requirements can be simplified. One does not have to be a scientist to ensure the safety of the contents being packaged.

An Important Clarification

As far as possible, for the sake of readability, I shall not use technical terms. However, some terms cannot be avoided. This article is written with the common man in view. However, it is not a complete  reference document either and the author cannot take responsibility for decisions taken based on the information provided here. Air freight packaging requirements  are many, but only the most important ones are mentioned here.

This documents aims to present the reader with the most important set of information. Professional packaging services are available for specialised freight. Air freight packaging regulations have been set in place by the concerned authorities.

As and where required technical help from experts in the field should be requested. Information is being given here to acquaint the shipper with factors that he has to consider before making his air cargo “ready for carriage”

Security Factor – Tamper Proof Packaging

Air Freight packaging requirements are not complete without the term tamper proof. Airlines, freight forwarders (air cargo agents) and even lorry companies (truckers) have the term “secured freight” on the top of their lists.

Aviation security officers (government officers) can march in any time, into the warehouse and inspect shipments ready for air transport.  Every aspect of security will be  considered during inspection. Tamper proof packing is, hence, a mandatory requirement.

Tamper Proof Packaging – Measures

The primary question is : Is the packaging prone to an entry? The question means, can someone access the contents of the shipment? Are there any slits, holes or any openings? A foreign object such as an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) can be smuggled into the package through an opening. Since the opening was already present, an entry cannot be noticed. There is no visible damage. Hence, any package, which has any form of opening will be classified as not safe for air transport.

The regulations demand that the openings be sealed. When a shipment is tendered to the airlines for transport, the airline reserves the right to refuse acceptance of the freight, if any such opening are present.

The simplest measure is to package the goods in such a way that no external source can get any access to the inside.

Stress – In Air Freight Mode of Transport

Goods in transport are  subject to various forms of stress. In a broad sense, stress can be classified two main categories

air freight packaging requirements

Dynamic stress is that which the shipment is subjected to during movements. This can be

  • Stress due to Impact
  • Stress due to various forms of vibration

The content of the shipment must be able to survive any of the forms of stress. This is achieved by having a packaging done which will withstand several factors, thus keeping the content safe and sound.

Some very basic points to be considered are

  • Wobbly content : the content of the packaging can move freely, when the shipment is moved (tilted, pushed, shaken etc.) . Solution: provide additional stuffing/dunnage to prevent the freight from moving.
  • Thrust Shock: Any shock from outside (e.g. a hit/ a thrust) can damage the content. If the shipment is “thrown” , the landing can cause damage. Solution: Just as in wobbly content, provide additional dunnage. 
  • Projection : A carton on a pallet with the edges of the carton as overhang. Solution: use a bigger pallet.
  • Exposed freight: uncovered freight on a pallet. An easy case for potential damage. Shrink-wrap alone will not help. Either use a overlapping carton with enough dunnage inside.
  • Sharp edges : Pallets may have short edges. Solution: file the sharp edges
  • Pallets without protected chocks (feet) : Very rare case. Almost all pallets available have the chocks covered by long sheets of wood. This helps to distribute the weight of the shipment evenly on the pallet. Exposed chocks are risky. Read the article on floor load tolerance

The shipment will be lifted, moved, set down and probably even dragged. It may be subjected to movements caused by acceleration or deceleration. For example, when the lorry carrying the freight comes to an abrupt stop, the moment might shift the goods forward. A reverse force might propel item backwards. If the stress caused by such a an impact is transferred to the contents, there is a chance of damage.

In the same way, vibration of the engine will cause loose items to move, thus letting the trapped air to escape, causing a collapse of the top layer. This is especially visible in packagings containing styrofoam chips. The air escaping from the gaps will cause the chips to restructure themselves and sink, thereby exposing the top of the freight they covered. Air freight packaging regulations require that the packaging protects the content from almost all possible forms of stress

Stress – Possible Forms or Causes

Each freight is an individual unit and possesses its own strong and weak points. It is advisable for the shipper to formulate his own air freight packaging requirements. Only the shipper knows his wares better and he can draw up a list a of measures to be be followed. A few points are mentioned below, according to which a list can be prepared.

Stress caused by Impact: Vertical Force

  • Vertical fall, or free fall: Consignment falling from the lorry, from the forklift
  • Tipping: Piece is tilted resulting in the object tipping of the side
  • Bumping: Other pieces bump into the piece or while hoisting or setting down
  • Tumbling:  Careless placed shipment rolls over the edge of the surface

Stress Caused by Impact: Horizontal Force

  • Jolt caused by acceleration of the transport vehicle
  • Bumping into the side of the lorry when the latter navigates a curve
  • Other cargo bumping in when the lorry goes up a gradient.

Stress Caused by Vibration

  • Stress caused by the vibration of the engine
  • vertical force impacting on the freight due to movement of the vehicle: plunging, rising
  • Horizontal impact: Forward acceleration, reverse movments
  • Vertical impact :  upward acceleration: take off, landing, lowering, lifts etc
  • Lateral impact :  Impact caused by sideways movements: banking port ward and leeward

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

Air freight packaging requirements are put in place not only to avoid foreseeable risks but also to prevent incidents of damage that would cause unnecessary processing time with insurance cases.

Packaging Material – A repetition

If you are using wood, please read the article on wooden packaging! You should keep yourself up to date on ISPM 15 (

Most of the aircraft have temperature regulations in place. It is your responsibility to use a packaging that is well insulated to avoid any temperature influenced damage. If the content is to be protected from frost, an extra label to the effect should be affixed to the outside of the shipment

Waterproofing is not a must, However, precautionary measures are never a bad decision. If the content cannot be damaged by moisture or by water, no extra steps are needed.

Dangerous goods packaging must be fully compliant to the standards set by the IATA. The current copy of the Dangerous Goods Regulation should be available for reference.

Always use sturdy materials. As mentioned above the shipment will be subjected to stress and the packaging must be able to withstand almost all of them.

If cartons are used, see that the flaps at the bottom are secured by adhesive tape.  The inside floor should be reinforced by a protective board or shock absorbent material layer.

Experience has taught me to discourage  packing peanuts. If you really prefer to use them, it is advisable to fill the packaging with the chips and subject the shipment to vibration (shaking, tilting, jolting) to displace the air between the chips. This will change expose the top of the packaging so that more chips can be used to cover the exposed section.

air freight packaging requirementsCourtesy;  yum9me

Blister-wrap (bubble wrap) is a good alternative but also expensive. Combine the materials as you wish. Always better to test packagings before actually implementing them. Your air freight packaging requirements must be tailor made to your needs and products. The goal to avoid any form of damage.

Smoothen sharp edges (pallets). Avoid using metal under the chocks (feet of the pallet). Metal against metal is not permissible in air freight transport. Avoid using pallets with exposed chocks. Always use pallets that have the chocks covered by strips to give an even running lower side.

Heavy Engineering Goods

Shipments of a higher weight category may not be packaged. The airline will give you instructions on what is to be done. Sufficient space must be available under the shipment for a wooden floor which will be mounted on the air freight pallet (also called ULD = Unit Load Device).

Protect the bottom of the shipment with proper earthing as the load will be placed on a protective plastic sheet (static electricity) .

Vibratory Stress – A Note For Sensitive Equipment

If you classify your shipment as sensitive to vibrations, you should inform your packaging company to use materials that insulate the contents from strong vibrations. Your list of air freight packaging requirements must mention that packaging materials should be able to withstand and protect the contents from vibrations levels which can reach up to 500 Hz

Air Freight Packaging Requirements for Oversize Freight – Very Long Heavy Pieces

Shipments are secured to tie down slots on the floor of the aircraft. Strong belts (lashes) are used to secure the freight. The air freight pallets and ULDs (Unit Load Devices) are locked in place using the locking down slots on the aircraft floor. Providing rings or hooks along the length of the freight will help the loading staff to save time and also give your freight that extra amount of security.

Requirements For Temperature Sensitive Shipments

Is your freight temperature sensitive? You must mention it on your SLI (Shipper’s Letter of Instructions). If your freight does not need “active cooling” during the flight, but should be kept within a certain temperature range (usually between 2°C and 8°C),  no cool container (also called Envirotainer) is needed. The freight will still be transported within the temperature limits.

However, if the flight needs to go through transit, the hold will be opened to remove the freight required for the stop over destination. This will cause a sudden change in temperature conditions within the hold. Hence, include special insulation in your list of requirements.

Packaging Requirements For Temperature Controlled Freight – Passive Cooling

Passive cooling means no temperature controlled container is used. Cooling is done by the type of packaging used. An insulated carton can keep the outside temperature (ambient temperature)  from reaching the content. Calling gel or similar material is inserted into the carton to keep the content at the required temperature. Dry ice, too, may be used for cooling.

Passive cooling is to be used only for freight booked on direct flights. When a transit is involved, there will a lay off time for freight before it goes on to the connecting flight.

Hence, consider, how long the cool packs or gel packs can keep the content cool. Never use a consolidation mode for transporting temperature sensitive freight. Use air freight packaging requirements on a case by case basis.

Additional note for temperature controlled shipments flown using envirotainer containers (RKN):  If you shrink-wrap your shipment, remember to leave the bottom of the pallet open. If you cover the bottom of the pallet with the shrink wrap film, the cooled air will be blocked from circulating.

Cartons On Pallets

Cartons on pallets must be secured using strong steel or plastic straps. Use a contour protection (angular hard board frame lines) to prevent the straps from cutting through the carton. Straps cutting through the cartons will cause the freight to be classified as “in danger of manipulation”. If this happens, the consignment will have to be “made secure” after inspection. This means the slits need to be sealed and secured against any possible manipulation. Air freight safety regulations are very stringent.

An Advice Oft Repeated

All small shipments, flying on long haul flights, save time and energy if kept below the 160 cm limit. Anything above the 160 cm height limit needs a freighter.

All small shipments that need to be re-loaded on the connecting flights  should be below the 160 cm limit. However, there a lot of destinations, to which only “narrow body” aircraft operate. For example if the connecting flight is a B757 (Boeing 757) the height of the freight may not exceed 70 cm and a weight of maximum 150 kg per piece (some airlines may demand a lesser weight per piece).

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Author: surenpillai

Experienced freight forwarder. Managed freight movements across all the continents. Highlights were the technology roadshows (EMEA) and Trade Lane Management India. All the above combined with Customer Relationship Management, foreign agent management, dedicated key account management. Previous experience as a teacher of English. Member of the Queen's English Society