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Airline Tragedies Point to Perils of Traveling Together

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planesThe recent spate of airline tragedies has brought into focus the need to consider another factor when making travel plans—and something not often discussed—who should travel together.

The downing of a Malaysian jet over Ukraine dealt a horrific blow to the battle against AIDS. On board was a group of high-profile AIDS researchers on their way to an international conference. In March, a Malaysian airline that went missing carried 20 employees of Austin-based Freescale Semiconductor.

The number of Freescale employees on one flight was shocking. Over the years, companies, some spurred by insurance carriers, have developed policies to prevent such an occurrence.

Many companies now have policies which limit those traveling together. Some are based on a percentage of their workforce; others a specific number of employees, says Michael Steiner, Executive Vice President of Ovation Corporate Travel.

Generally, he says, “Larger corporations have stricter policies in place compared to smaller companies who have more lenient policies, or none at all.”

As travel consultants, Steiner says they typically suggest spreading executives out among several flights to avoid having the majority of any one vital team affected in the case of an emergency.

Steiner says commercial, private, and charter flights should not be viewed any differently.

Yet, a review of air crashes shows private planes and charter flights can be especially problematic—executives traveling together, law firms going on retreats, sports teams flying to a game, civic leaders on a cultural or economic mission, etc.

In 1991, a corporate jet crashed, killing six top executives of the Southern supermarket chain, Brunos. In 2010, Sundance Resources, an Australian mining company, lost its entire board when a chartered aircraft went down in Africa.

The explosion of a charter Air France jet in 1962 still reverberates in Atlanta. In that one horrific moment, the core of the Atlanta arts community was gone. After a three-week cultural tour of France, 106 Atlantans died. Thirty-three children and young adults were orphaned, according to Ann Uhry Abrams, author of Explosion at Orly: The Disaster That Transformed Atlanta, which points to another issue of traveling together—the personal realm.

Some parents make a point of taking different flights. Since having children, Susan Moran of Chicago and her husband have taken separate flights, unless traveling as a family.

“I realized that we probably had a greater risk being hit by a truck,” on frequent highway trips, said Moran.

But when it came to flying, she said, “I think we both felt we were trying to minimize a very small risk of leaving the kids without parents. Closer knit families might feel different, knowing if something happens to them, their families can easily step into their shoes.”

By Lea Donosky for