What is an Airbill?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

When sending a letter or package through the regular delivery schemes offered by a country’s postal service, one simply writes the name and address of the recipient and the sender in the appropriate places on the envelope, attaches the postage, and drops it in a mailbox or takes it to the post office. For other types of delivery service, either through the country’s postal service or another carrier, an airbill is the set of paperwork that is completed by the sender, both for record keeping and to be used as the address label on the package. Paper airbills can be filled out by hand, or an airbill can be generated online through an account with the carrier.

An airbill contains packaging information.
An airbill contains packaging information.

The airbill of each service — for example, the United States Postal Service (USPS), Australia Post, La Poste in France, Federal Express®, UPS®, and DHL® — differ somewhat in configuration and depending on the exact service used. There are usually differences to distinguish domestic service from international service, as well as for the speed of service. For example, economy services and priority services may have a separate airbill design.

Information about a shipment on an airbill may include special handling services such as Saturday delivery.
Information about a shipment on an airbill may include special handling services such as Saturday delivery.

The typical sections of an airbill include a section for the sender, a section for the recipient, shipment information, the shipping service requested, packaging information, special handling services, a shipping or billing reference, and payment information. Also included on each airbill is a tracking number that can be used to follow the package’s progress in transit and ascertain delivery information. The sender information includes the name, address including country, and phone number of the sender. Paper airbills with prefilled account and sender information are available for account holders. The recipient information is similar to that for the sender: name, address including country, and phone number.

Information about the shipment on the airbill includes the number of packages, the weight of each package, and the package dimensions. The date and the total weight may be in this section or elsewhere on the airbill. Packaging indicates various choices among that carrier’s proprietary packaging, as well as packaging provided by the customer. Special handling may include choices such as dry ice, evening home delivery, and Saturday delivery. The sender may also indicate whether the delivery must be signed for or delivered solely to the addressee.

Payment information may have several sections. In one section, the sender, recipient, or a third party may be indicated as responsible for payment. If a third party is responsible, an account number will likely be required. If the sender is responsible, either an account number or a form of payment, such as cash or check, or a credit card number will be required. The sender’s signature may also be required.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


Get a FedEx acct. number (they're free). You can do that over the phone or on the internet. Once you've done that just fill out a regular airbill.

Prepaid airbills can be sent to you with your name and address and other information (most importantly your fedex account number) printed on them.

Now anyone with those airbills can ship stuff in your name.


What is a prepaid airbill? How do I get one from FedEx?

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