The helicopter deaths of three of Donald Trump's key Atlantic City, N.J., Casino executives last week brought into sharp focus the dangers of top company officials traveling on the same aircraft.
Institutions ranging from major corporations to mom-and-pop businesses have policies that try to assure management continuity by limiting the number of employees on the same airplane or helicopter flight.But how many employees follow those policies is another question, say travel-industry executives. Even senior executives - usually the target of such rules - are lax in abiding by the safeguards.
"It's really a very difficult thing to control," said Robert Anderson, travel manager at Unisys Corp., where 40,000 employees travel on company business at least once a year.
Of the three Trump gaming executives, one oversaw all casino operations in Atlantic City for Trump, another headed the $1 billion Taj Mahal casino that is under construction and the third was senior vice president of an operating casino.
A spokesman for the Trump Organization said he was unaware of any company policy on group travel by executives.
But such rules are commonplace, even if a company has never experienced the loss of a cadre of managers in a single tragedy.
"It's extremely common in travel and entertainment policies for corporations," said Melinda Smith of Rosenbluth Travel of Philadelphia, the country's third-largest travel agency. "In fact, we have it in our own Rosenbluth corporate travel policy - under risk management."
The policy at AT&T is typical. A spokeswoman at the Bedminster, N.J., company said that no more than two of the corporation's senior managers are supposed to take the same flight.
NCR Corp. of Dayton, Ohio, has a "very detailed" policy that specifies how board-appointed corporate officers and department heads should travel.
"Its purpose is the continuity and successful operation and management of NCR and its individual organizations in the event of an accident involving that group," said corporate travel manager Richard Bigler.
J.G. Hook Inc., the Philadelphia apparel manufacturer, has a policy that extends even further. It states that no more than two people from any department should travel together on a flight.
With a limited number of flights to many small and mid-size cities, following the rules can be a challenge, said J.G. Hook travel manager Jerry Keenan.
"If you have to put people on planes to out-of-the-way places, it can be a real problem," he said.
A 1988 survey by Runzheimer International Ltd., a Northbrook, Ill., management-consulting firm that specializes in the travel business, found that 56 percent of 108 companies surveyed had a policy on employees' traveling together.
Of the companies with policies, 93 percent governed air travel, and 27 percent restricted ground transportation.
At 15 percent of the companies, executives were restricted from checking into the same hotel at the same time, in efforts to avoid fire-related losses.
The survey determined that of the companies with policies, 68 percent limited the number of executives who could travel together, and 48 percent placed limits on all employees.
Bradford Burris, executive vice president with Runzheimer, said most companies did not routinely police executives on the travel policies.
"They inadvertently don't adhere to it," he said. "There isn't enough attention paid within the corporation to whether the policy is being adhered to. Often people don't know (they're on the same flight) until they meet at the gate at the airport."
But if a company consolidates its travel planning with one agency or has a corporate department that manages travel, it can set up computerized tracking systems that monitor policy compliance, Mr. Burris said.
However, in some very large corporations, the task of monitoring the hundreds of flights used each day by employees is considered so massive that the companies believe they must rely on voluntary compliance.
Having strict rules is "one of those things that sounds very good in concept . . . But how do you really control it?" asked Unisys' Mr. Anderson.