Cargo and Freight Agent

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Significant Points

▲ Many jobs are entry level and do not require more than a high school diploma.

▲ Although cargo traffic is expected to grow faster than in the past, employment of cargo and freight agents will not keep pace because of technological advances.

Nature of the Work

Cargo and freight agents arrange for and track incoming and outgoing cargo and freight shipments in airline, train, or trucking terminals or on shipping docks. They expedite shipments by determining the route that shipments are to take and by preparing all necessary shipping documents. The agents take orders from customers and arrange for the pickup of freight or cargo for delivery to loading platforms. Cargo and freight agents may keep records of the cargo, such as its amount, type, weight, and dimensions. They keep a tally of missing items, record the condition of damaged items, and document any excess supplies.

Cargo and freight agents arrange cargo according to its destination. They also determine the shipping rates and other charges that can sometimes apply to the freight. For imported or exported freight, they verify that the proper customs paperwork is in order. Cargo and freight agents often track shipments electronically, using bar codes, and answer customers’ inquiries on the status of their shipments.

Essential Functions & Responsibilities

  • Advise clients on transportation and payment methods.
  • Track delivery progress of shipments.
  • Notify consignees, passengers, or customers of freight or baggage arrival and arrange for delivery.
  • Determine method of shipment and prepare bills of lading, invoices, and other shipping documents.
  • Estimate freight or postal rates and record shipment costs and weights.
  • Keep records of all goods shipped, received, and stored.
  • Enter shipping information into a computer by hand or by a hand-held scanner that reads bar codes on goods.
  • Check import or export documentation to determine cargo contents and use tariff coding system to classify goods according to fee or tariff group.
  • Prepare manifests showing numbers of airplane passengers and baggage, mail, and freight weights, transmitting data to destinations.
  • Negotiate and arrange transport of goods with shipping or freight companies.
  • Install straps, braces, and padding to loads to prevent shifting or damage during shipment.
  • Arrange insurance coverage for goods.
  • Direct or participate in cargo loading to ensure completeness of load and even distribution of weight.
  • Coordinate and supervise activities of workers engaged in packing and shipping merchandise.
  • Route received goods to first available flight or to appropriate storage areas or departments, using forklifts, hand trucks, or other equipment.
  • Direct delivery trucks to shipping doors or designated marshaling areas and help load and unload goods safely.
  • Open cargo containers and unwrap contents, using steel cutters, crowbars, or other hand tools.
  • Contact vendors or claims adjustment departments to resolve shipment problems or contact service depots to arrange for repairs.
  • Retrieve stored items and trace lost shipments as necessary.
  • Attach address labels, identification codes, and shipping instructions to containers.
  • Inspect and count items received and check them against invoices or other documents, recording shortages and rejecting damaged goods.
  • Maintain a supply of packing materials.
  • Pack goods for shipping, using tools such as staplers, strapping machines, and hammers.
  • Assemble containers and crates used to transport items such as machines or vehicles.

Working Conditions

Cargo and freight agents work in a wide variety of businesses, institutions, and industries. Some work in warehouses, stockrooms, or shipping and receiving rooms that may not be temperature controlled. Others may spend time in cold storage rooms or outside on loading platforms, where they are exposed to the weather.

Most jobs for cargo and freight agents involve frequent standing, bending, walking, and stretching. Some lifting and carrying of smaller items also may be involved. Although automated devices have lessened the physical demands of this occupation, their use remains somewhat limited. The work still can be strenuous, even though mechanical material-handling equipment is employed to move heavy items.

The typical workweek is Monday through Friday; however, evening and weekend hours are common in some jobs and may be required in other jobs when large shipments are involved.


Cargo and freight agents held about 70,000 jobs in 2004. Most jobs were in transportation. Approximately 20 percent worked in the air transportation industry and 8 percent worked in the truck transportation industry. Couriers employed another 11 percent. In addition, about 43 percent worked for firms engaged in support activities for the transportation industry.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Many jobs are entry level and do not require more than a high school diploma. Employers, however, prefer to hire those familiar with computers. Typing, filing, recordkeeping, and other clerical skills also are important.

Cargo and freight agents start out by checking items to be shipped and then attaching labels to them and making sure that the addresses are correct. Training in the use of automated equipment usually is done informally, on the job. As this occupation becomes more automated, however, workers may need longer periods of training in order to master the use of the equipment. Advancement opportunities for cargo and freight agents vary with the place of employment.

Job Outlook

Employment of cargo and freight agents is expected to decline through 2014. Although cargo traffic is expected to grow faster than in the past, employment of cargo and freight agents will not keep pace because of technological advances. For example, the increasing use of bar codes on cargo and freight allows agents and customers to track these shipments quickly over the Internet rather than manually tracking their location. In addition, customs and insurance paperwork now can be completed over the Internet by customers, reducing the need for cargo and freight agents. Despite these advances in technology that dampen job growth among cargo and freight agents, job openings will continue to arise due to increases in buying over the Internet, which will result in more shipments. Jobs also will open up because of the increasing importance of same-day delivery, which expands the role of agents. In addition, many job openings will be created to replace cargo and freight agents who leave the occupation.


Salary Range: 25,000 - 75,000  (In USD as of Mar 30, 2015)

Median annual earnings of cargo and freight agents in May 2004 were $34,250. The middle 50 percent earned between $25,720 and $43,250. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,700, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $54,480.

These workers usually receive the same benefits as most other workers. If uniforms are required, employers generally provide them or offer an allowance to purchase them.

Related Occupations

Cargo and freight agents plan and coordinate shipments of cargo by airlines, trains, and trucks. They also arrange freight pickup with customers. Others who do similar work are couriers and messengers; shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks; weighers, measurers, checkers, and samplers, recordkeeping; truck drivers and driver/sales workers; and Postal Service workers.

Sources of Additional Information

Information about job opportunities may be obtained from local employers and local offices of the state employment service.

Related O*NET Occupation(s)

CARGO AND FREIGHT AGENTS (O*NET 43-5011.00)—Preparation: Moderate-term on-the-job training. Description: Expedite and route movement of incoming and outgoing cargo and freight shipments in airline, train, and trucking terminals and shipping docks. Take orders from customers and arrange pickup of freight and cargo for delivery to loading platform. Prepare and examine bills of lading to determine shipping charges and tariffs.

Related DOT Occupation(s)

CARGO AGENT: Routes inbound and outbound air freight shipments to their destinations. TRANSPORTATION AGENT: Expedites movement of freight, mail, baggage, and passengers through airline terminal by performing various tasks.

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