Next Flight Out vs. On-Board Courier: Which Is Best?

When you have to get an emergency shipment to its destination quickly, or if you’re shipping sensitive materials, you may think that having someone hand-carry the shipment on a flight (known as using an On-Board Courier, or OBC) is the best option.

But an OBC comes with a high cost and, depending on the size and type of shipment, may actually offer less security and reliability than using Next Flight Out (NFO) services. Read on to learn more about these two services and how you can make the best decision for your time-critical shipment.

Next Flight Out

At its simplest, NFO means putting your shipment on the next available flight for delivery. Commercial airlines offer premium services for sensitive shipments that require special handling, so no one needs to physically accompany the shipment.

On-Board Courier

With OBC service, someone hand-carries your shipment onto the plane (or checks it in as luggage) and personally delivers it to your facility. This means purchasing a last-minute ticket for that person, a hotel room at the destination, and paying the courier a salary.

Time and Cost Differences

Typically, there’s not a huge difference in shipping time between NFO and OBC, but NFO services are a fraction of the cost. For international, trans-ocean flights, an on-board courier with a small shipment can cost anywhere from $5,000 to 8,000, depending on what you are shipping, the destination, and the timeframe. Using NFO service for that same shipment often reduces the cost to $1,000 to 2,000. For domestic shipments, an OBC will be about $2,000 to 4,000, while NFO service can be as low as $500 to 1,200. Of course, every shipment is different, so these numbers can vary quite a bit—but our customers often see savings up to 80% when using NFO instead of OBC.


It would seem like having someone hand-carry your shipment provides the greatest security assurances, but generally, that’s only the case when the shipment is carry-on size or smaller. If the courier has to carry multiple packages, or if they’re too large and need to be checked, your shipment will be treated like normal passenger luggage, which has minimal tracking options.

With NFO service, however, each package has a tracking number and is scanned multiple times throughout its journey: when it arrives at the airport, when it goes on the plane, when it’s taken off the plane, and when it’s transferred to the carrier that will deliver it to its final destination. Due to this tracking, we’re able to see discrepancies or potential delays almost immediately and can proactively make contingency plans.

So Which to Choose?

Like we said, every shipment and situation is different, but for most of our clients, NFO is the preferred option because of the cost and reliability offered.

OBC can be better in certain situations, such as:

  • Smaller, very sensitive shipments that need to be personally handled
  • Shipments which are going to destinations with very particular customs regulations
  • Shipments on routes with very tight connection times
  • Shipments on routes using multiple airlines

Although there are instances where you may need a courier to safely get your shipment through customs, there are also airports that won’t allow passengers to bring commercial goods through customs. This is one of the reasons you need an experienced expedited shipping carrier that can anticipate such issues when planning the route.

Ultimately, the choice between Next Flight Out and On-Board Courier depends on several factors—but the urgency of your shipment usually isn’t one of them. Both options typically offer the same timeframe, so you can instead base your decision on cost or the type of shipment.


Contact us today to see how our creative international courier solutions can get your expedited shipments delivered on time and in perfect condition.

Request a Quote