Many Firms Limit Number of Executives on Same Flight

By SHRM Online staff Feb 10, 2009
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Organizations that permit many of their executives to travel on the same plane at the same time may be placing their operations at risk, suggests the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE).

More than 20 Bank of America employees, for example, were among the 150 passengers aboard US Airways flight 1549 when it made an emergency splashdown in the Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009, according to the New York Times. Bank of America’s headquarters are in Charlotte, S.C., the destination point for the flight.

“The reliability of air travel makes the unthinkable seem impossible,” ACTE executive director Susan Gurley said in a press release. “Yet it may only take one accident, one malfunction, or even a chain of the most unlikely events to spawn disasters—and bring a company to its knees.

In a survey of 101 firms around the globe, a large majority—84 percent—have a policy restricting the number of executives that may travel on the same corporate or commercial plane, ACTE found.

Among firms with that policy, 61 percent apply the policy only to executive-level employees, 28 percent include all employees in the policy and 11 percent apply it only to corporate officers and directors.

Sixteen percent of corporations in the United States, Asia Pacific, Canada, Europe and the Middle East/Africa do not have a policy restricting the number of executives that may travel together on the same corporate or commercial plane, ACTE found. However, 14 percent claim they will look into implementing such a policy.

An overwhelming majority (90 percent) of organizations said they do not provide escape training for travelers who might find themselves dealing with aircraft emergencies.

British Airways offers a simulated plane crash experience for organizations. “Passengers” board a Boeing 737 that is mounted on a motion platform, and they must exit the plane as quickly as possible after they are plunged into darkness and smoke fills the cabin during a fake 3,000-foot nosedive.

“Demand has increased in the past month in the wake of a US Airways Airbus A320 hitting a flock of birds about New York and ditching into the Hudson River,” The (London) Sunday Timesreported Feb. 1, 2009.

“It cannot be denied that executives are much safer flying on the same plane than they are traveling in the same car,” ACTE’s Gurley said, noting what she called relatively few aviation accidents.

“Yet there are many variables to be taken into account in reducing the risk to which travelers, and their companies, may be exposed through business travel.”

Opinions differ over what constitutes a safe number of executives on the same flight. A sample policy found on the Society for Human Resource Management’s web site suggests limiting the number to no more than three, and “in no circumstances will both the chief executive officer and the chief financial officer travel on the same flight.”

The ACTE survey found that:

  • 40 percent of companies limit the number to three or four.
  • 33 percent allow more than 10 employees to travel together.
  • 13 percent limit the number to five or six.
  • 8 percent limit the number to one or two, and an equal percentage say seven or eight is acceptable.

“A loss of upper management now, especially during these challenging economic times, could mean survival for a firm,” Gurley said, “and jobs for thousands of other employees. This is clearly a case where companies needn’t bet against the odds.”

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