As the English language has become the ubiquitous language of business and trade around the world, the lingua franca that people of most cultures and walks of life around the world use to communicate, so it has become more important to have an awareness of terminology.
One of these important distinctions is between the terms air freight and air cargo. These are terms that are commonly used interchangeably in business, as well as in common parlance by the layperson.
However, as with many such pieces of terminology across differing areas of business and the world, they do not always mean the same thing to everyone. Although many people will use interchangeably most of the time, it is also the case that many involved in the international transport of goods by air will be aware of, and use, the key differences between them.
Failure to understand how the terms differ for some could cause confusion in booking air cargo and/or air freight services, potentially leading to misunderstandings with regards to how goods are going to be shipped as well as the financial implications of transporting goods.
Freight versus Cargo – What’s in a name?
Some of the differences are merely differences of terminology. Terminology often changes or is used differently in various parts of the world, and although the opinions expressed here are common throughout the world, it should be considered that these differences will not apply everywhere uniformly.
One common difference between the two is that the term freight is often reserved for using to describe goods that have been transported by truck or by train. The emphasis here then is on goods transported by land.
One example of this is the use of the term freight train to describe a shipment of goods that are being transported by train or freight truck to describe a shipment by road.
However, cargo is often used to describe goods that have been transported by ship or by plane, therefore by sea or by air. Freight then can be seen in this sense to describe land-based transport, whereas cargo can be seen to describe transport by other methods.
One example of this is the term cargo ship to describe a shipment of goods that are being transported by ship. The term cargo plane is also common, whereas freight plane is less common.
However, it is also sometimes said that the word cargo is used to describe the goods being transported, whereas freight is often more specific about any costs in relation to the goods. This then is different than using the terms freight or cargo merely to describe the means of transport.
For example, computers being transported from one place to another may be described as a cargo of computers. However, any charges in relation to the transport of those goods would more likely be described as freight charges.
Another example is that a truck driver who is transporting their goods may be asked at a customs check on a border, ‘What is your cargo?’ or ‘Can I see your cargo manifest?’ They are unlikely to be asked ‘What is your freight?’ This emphasises the fact that the word cargo is more commonly used out of the two to describe the actual goods supplied.
Air Freight or Air Cargo?
It may seem then from what has been considered so far that a shipment of goods by plane would always be referred to as cargo rather than freight, but this is not always going to be the case.
As has been identified earlier, cargo is likely to refer to the goods themselves. The word freight has a wider meaning rather than merely the goods.
When someone involved in the import, export or transportation of goods by plane talks about ‘air freight’, this is most likely because they are talking in a much wider concept than the goods themselves.
Discussing freight rather than merely cargo implies a consideration of the wider and more varied aspects of transporting goods. These could include:
- Payments involved in transporting goods, for example import/export charges or tariffs.
- The wider logistics process of transportation – this could include methods of transport, storage, transfers, delivery etc.
Within the industry, there is often talk of ‘freight rates’, which is the cost of transporting goods, particularly around the world. In this sense, talking about air cargo can again be seen to be about the goods themselves, whereas air freight considers the goods and the overall cost of transporting them. This is because the term cargo merely relates to the goods whereas freight considers the costs of those goods in transport and delivery.
Another way of considering the difference between freight and cargo, particularly in the context of the transportation of goods by air, is the distinction between commercial and non-commercial transport of goods.
Some within the industry will use the term freight to only apply to the transportation of commercial goods, whereas cargo will be used as a more generic term for non-commercial and personal transportation of goods.
Those who use the term in this way will generally agree that the one item that would not be considered to be freight would be mail, however it is transported.
The term air cargo will normally apply to the goods and how they are being transported, whereas the term air freight will have normally had a more specific meaning that applies to the financial as well as the logistical aspects of that transport, particularly transport charges.
As can be seen in this article, there are differences between the terms freight and cargo, even if they are often used interchangeably. One of the challenges in using these terms in the worldwide context of the transportation and delivery of commercial and personal goods is understanding the different ways that they are used to avoid confusion.
Of paramount importance therefore is understanding how they are used by the businesses and individuals that are involved in the various parts of the supply chain, particularly ones that you or your business may be working with at a given time. This helps to avoid confusion and bring clarity to the trading and transportation of goods, particularly by air.
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