Previously, the only function of packaging was to protect the shipment. In modern distribution other considerations must also be taken into account, for instance, automated storage and mechanical handling. The designer also has to consider the limitations of various modes of transportation in order to find the most economical forms of packaging.

There are no standing instructions on how an air cargo shipment should be packed, except for dangerous goods and live animals. Packing requirements vary, depending on the commodity, aircraft type, weather conditions and regulations of the country of origin or destination.

The package must be clean and unbroken, and must not display any old, confusing markings. Not much is required of the packaging during the flight. Air travel is smooth, and cargo holds are pressurized and heated. Surface transportation to the airport and from the airport to the consignee often calls for sturdy packaging.

Owing to the nature of air transportation, packaging can often be lighter, and usually less expensive, than that normally used in surface transportation. Today's light, durable packaging materials have replaced many of the old wooden, cardboard and metal packages.

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