What is an Air Waybill, How Do They Work and How Do I Find One?

Go back 17 Feb 2022
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An air waybill, or an AWB, is a receipt from your air carrier when shipping by air. It is a contract between the business or individual who is shipping and the carrier organisation. Air waybills are designed especially for air cargo and are one of the most important documents for all the parties involved – from the shipper, to the carrier, to the consignee.

The air waybill acts as a contract of carriage and also confirms the receipt of goods from one airport to another. The air waybill serves the following four crucial purposes:

  1. Billing record: An air waybill can be used as a billing record, for the air carrier and the person or organisation receiving the goods after air travel. It may include charges from the air carrier to be paid too, which are typically only payable on delivery of the goods.
  2. Carriage receipt: The air waybill is a non-negotiable document, meaning they are pre-determined in terms of costs and other details. Essentially, they cannot be changed. Most importantly, the air waybill works as proof of your carriage agreement.
  3. Customs information: Air waybills are also customs documents, especially when you ship between jurisdictions with no trade agreements or other unions. Air waybills are not commodity codes and you will need a commodity code to create an air waybill.
  4. Receipt of goods evidence: The air waybill is also important for showing the goods have reached their destination. It also proves that the goods were received in proper condition and that all shipping instructions have been followed.

Waybills go alongside a bill of lading, which details the kind, amount, destination and, most importantly, the owner of the goods. Waybills do not show ownership. In modern shipping and air transport, it is more commonly an electronic document – this means that waybill numbers or package information can be scanned automatically. There are also sea waybills for sea freight. 
We are leading providers of many fast, reliable and cost-effective international shipping services. As a result, we can answer a few common questions about air waybills, how they work and why they are important documents. You can get in touch with us to use our amazing service today.

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How do I Track My Air Waybill Number?

You can track your air waybill number through your air carrier, of which there are many global and regional providers. When you check digits that appear on your air waybill number with your carrier, or third-party sites, you will be able to track your shipment and see other information on the progress of your delivery, too. Tracking from some providers can be unreliable at times.

Not all carriers have the same level of real-time tracking, data or support available, so third party sites may be a good alternative. You could also use a reliable shipping or delivery partner, who can provide bespoke online tracking abilities and other client support for tracking your goods.

How do I Find My Air Waybill Number?

Your air waybill is an 11 digit number, normally located on your carrier’s shipping label, but you may also find it in any of their email communications or directly from your online account.

The air waybill uses 3 digits to identify the airline carrying the shipment, and the remaining 8 digits are serial numbers to identify the package. Many times the air waybill will have a hyphen after the first 3 digits, so they might look something like this on the label: 111-12345678.

If you are struggling to find an air waybill number, you may benefit from a shipping service that is specialised in organising air freight. Good quality services of this kind will have excellent client support, just in case you have questions about airway bill numbers, or any other concerns.

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Is an Air Waybill the Same as a Tracking Number?

Yes. An air waybill is essentially the same as a tracking number. Air waybills are usually for large shipments of air freight with an air carrier, so you may have a different type of tracking number and not an air waybill for smaller shipments or shipments that are not travelling abroad by air.

Your air waybill is a type of tracking number, with a 3 digit airline identifier and an 8 digit shipment serial number – giving all parties all of the information for the air freight in transit.

Are Air Waybills Important?

Yes. Air waybills are important for customs, insurance, billing and proof of contract between the shipping parties. An air waybill is one of the most important documents for international air freight, with the waybill number from the package you can easily see the following information:

  • The name of the freight airline
  • Head office and communication information for the carrier
  • Company logos and insignia

Air waybills are designed and overseen by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). This provides considerable security and guarantees for shipping merchants as it is an internationally recognised non-negotiable contract, which is crucial when shipping between countries.

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You will see our team are friendly, professional and helpful when you get in touch to learn more about our international shipping services, which can alleviate any concerns you have about air waybills or shipping using air freight carriers.