Freescale Loss in Malaysia Raises Travel Policy Questions

The loss of 20 key Freescale Semiconductor employees in the disappearance of a Malaysian airliner on Saturday raises questions about whether the company should have allowed so many of them to board the same plane, but security experts said that at big corporations it's hard to avoid.

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines' Flight MH370 about an hour into its journey to Beijing remained a mystery Monday as a search orchestrated by 10 countries failed to find traces of the plane or the 239 people on board.

It was a blow to Austin, Texas-based Freescale. The vanished employees were engineers or specialists involved in projects to streamline and cut costs at key manufacturing facilities in China and Malaysia.

Many large companies have policies to prevent chief executives, chief financial officers and other senior executives from flying together to minimize disruption in case of a fatal crash, but few firms extend strict policies much further down the ladder.

Large organizations from corporations to sports franchises almost never prevent key employees and team members from riding together in buses, limousines or cars, which are potentially more dangerous than flying, corporate safety and security experts say.

For global companies organizing sales conferences and moving workers frequently between sites, fettering employees' travel plans is impractical and often not worth the inconvenience and potential extra costs, except in unique cases where their loss would be catastrophic, the experts say.

"When a lot of people are killed all in one place at one time, we spend disproportionate emotional focus on that risk: disproportionate to the probability and to the tradeoffs involved in any risk management choice, like spreading these guys out and putting them on a bunch of different airplanes," said David Ropeik, who writes and consults about risk perception.