With ocean cargoes, the freight forwarder receives an arrival notice from the carrier, which lists the salient details of the shipment’s location in the U.S. seaport for pickup. That’s not the case with air freight in most cases.
It is highly unlikely that you’ll receive written details about your import and its location, let alone the payment terms and conditions. It is up to the forwarder on the master air waybill to hunt down the imported cargo’s location, availability and payment terms and conditions.
What is most concerning for forwarders is that there are no tariffs available that detail the charges applied and, in particular, how and when storage fees are assessed.
Unlike European airports, which generally publish tariffs, the U.S. market is void of tariffs. It is this lack of transparency, which not only frustrates the situation of attempting to recover your imports from the airport, but unfairly adds costs one must pay without evidence of the true charge verification.
Very few airlines serving the U.S. import market today provide advance details on tariff rates, terms and conditions. Rates typically are communicated over the phone or sometimes by email, if you’re fortunate to have contact with an agent willing to write them down.
U.S. forwarders must make their freight payments online. Even then the airline may advise they “do not see” your payment, turn your truck driver away and force your cargo into storage, which again is not advertised and bears an unexpected cost.
In general, the forwarder on behalf of its U.S. customer must remain in constant contact with the airline or its agent and navigate through the hurdles of uncertainty until the cargo is retrieved.
A good first step to correct this inherent problem in the industry would be to require all U.S. airport cargo facilities that assess fees for handling and storage to list the “actual” fees on their websites. This will not only make transparent the applied costs but afford forwarders and their customers the opportunity to select airlines based on their advertised services and fees.
Gruettner is president of Lakewood, Calif.-based Extra Logistics and has managed both ocean and air freight for more than 35 years.