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Whilst the physical characteristics of certain goods and supplies may determine a specific mode of transport, most goods will be capable of being moved by a variety of modes. Customer requirements and constraints on the organisation providing the transport must be considered. In humanitarian aid situations, it is often environmental factors, such as the destruction of roads and railways that have a significant impact on mode selection.

It is important to fully recognise recognize the operational characteristics of the mode or modes that have been selected. It is also necessary to consider the type of vehicle or equipment that will be used within that mode. Prior to making a decision on the mode of transport, it would be useful to create a matrix ranking of influential factors for choosing transport modes. Some factors to consider in the rating:


  • Outer Packing/Outer Packaging - The outer most enclosure that contains or prevents unintended release of contents 
  • Over-Packaging/Overpacking - Items that are packaged in more than one layer or enclosure. Example: A box within a box, or multiple sacs within a larger carton. Over-packaging is common in handling of dangerous goods
  • Handling Unit - The lowest unit at which cargo is handled, usually at the box or carton level
  • Unit of Accounting - the lowest level inventory unit that is tracked and accounted for
  • Shipping Unit - the lowest unit at which cargo is handled for shipping - may be the same as the handling unit, or may be accounted for at the pallet/Unit Load Device level. 
  • Common Package Types:
    • Bale/Bundle 
    • Carton/Box
    • Roll
    • Pallet
    • Set/Kit
    • Crate
    • Drum
    • Bag/Sack
    • Loose/Bulk/Individual Unit


Labeling for transport is an important consideration. Knowing that cargo is often broken down or shipped loose means that shippers must adequately mark cartons to facilitate tracking of cargo, especially for cargo transported by air. Insurance brokers also have the right to dishonor a claim of damage to goods, due to inadequate packing and marking for the selected mode of transport. It is strongly advised that all cargo intended for air transport be labelled at the level of the carton or handling unit, and should have some - if not all - of the corresponding data: