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How Long Does Freight Delivery Take?

Posted by Jamie Hall on November 23, 2020 - 8:35 AM
Stopwatch showing freight transit time

Make the best decisions for your shipments by understanding transit options 

“How long does freight shipping take?” — it’s the question every shipper wants to know the answer to so they can plan appropriately and set the right expectations for delivery. And it depends on several things. Let’s look at how transit times are calculated, the things that could impact delivery, and what to expect for each mode and service option.  

What is transit time and how is it calculated? 

Transit time is simply how long it takes a shipment to be delivered to its destination after it’s been picked up — it doesn’t include the pickup day, weekends or holidays. It’s calculated based on several things, including the mode freight is traveling on, the route it’s taking, seasonality, and whether the transit time is estimated or guaranteed.   

Though freight transportation companies will use all available information to provide the most accurate transit times, it’s important to keep in mind that they’re often estimates. Here are just some of the most common things that can impact final shipping times: 

Distance & route  

Typically, the greater the distance, the longer delivery will take. Not only does added distance take longer to travel, but drivers can only operate a certain number of hours per day to comply with Hours of Service (HOS) laws. So, as you might expect, a shipment traveling coast-to-coast, compared to traveling a few states over, may run into more instances of mandated breaks. 

Where the freight is moving from and to can also affect the shipment time. If it’s coming out of or heading to an area with less freight movement, it may require waiting for equipment to become available.  


Seasonal trends also impact transit times. When shipment volumes spike — like during back-to-school and holiday seasons — there is more freight to move and capacity gets tight, so you may notice longer deliveries.   


Rain, snow, hurricanes, blizzards and other inclement weather can delay shipping — sometimes for only a few hours or days, or for extended periods of time in more severe conditions. If you’re shipping to or from an area prone to this type of weather, it’s important to plan ahead.   

Traffic, construction and accidents  

Congestion, road work and traffic accidents can cause unexpected delays in both long-distance and local delivery. Keep in mind that drivers are required to adhere to HOS regulations even if they’re sitting idle due to uncontrollable events.    

Transit times you can expect by mode 

  • Full Truckload (FTL) — With the exception of an expedited shipment, truckload is normally the fastest way to ship over-the-road because freight is not co-mingled and the truck travels directly to the destination.  

  • Less-than-truckload (LTL) — This is a cost-effective way to move smaller shipments, and because freight is co-mingled and stops for loading and unloading, transit times can be slightly slower than FTL. Use this transit time calculator to estimate shipping time for your LTL freight.  

  • Intermodal, or rail shipments — With infrastructure improvements, rail transit time is more reliable than ever. On average, it’s comparable to over-the-road shipping times and not as susceptible to some of the things that could impact transit (such as weather)  

Are there faster or guaranteed delivery options for time-sensitive shipments?  

For situations where standard transit time isn’t fast enough, or you need delivery on a specific day or at a specific time, time-critical solutions offer more flexible transit time options:  

  • Ground expedite is the fastest ground shipping option. In many cases, two drivers will trade off driving so that the freight never stops moving and delivers as quickly as possible.  

  • Time definite service ensures your freight delivers by a certain day or time. 

  • Domestic air offers the fastest shipping and includes options for next flight out, second day, deferred and charter. Most options are faster than ground, making air the ideal choice when it’s critical for shipments to reach their destination quickly. 

Get the transit times you need with ArcBest 

Whether you need standard shipping times, time-definite or expedited delivery, ArcBest has the capacity and technology to deliver when you need it. Our team of logistics professionals will partner with you to learn your business and help choose the best shipping mode for your freight. And, regardless of mode, you’ll get end-to-end visibility every step of the way.   

Get to know more about what ArcBest offers in this Overview Guide