Fear of Flying Causes Families to Split Flights

Nancy Pankiewicz and her husband were returning from their two-week honeymoon in Malaga, Spain, in 1982 when their charter flight crashed on take-off, careening across a highway and exploding in a field, killing 51.

"The plane vibrated and rattled a lot and the overhead compartments opened up and the ceiling panels fell," said Pankiewicz, now a Robbinsville, N.J., mother of three. "The plane melted."

The couple was sitting over the right wing, which caught fire, but managed to slide down the emergency chute to safety. Those in the back of the Spantax DC-10 perished.


Today, at 52, Pankiewicz is still not completely comfortable with air travel but insists the family fly together when they go on vacation.

"I wouldn't want to live without them," she said. "I don't like to fly, but I like to travel. And there's nothing you can do about it. You can't live your life afraid."

But many parents who have never come close to an air disaster choose to split up the family on separate flights, hoping to soften the tragedy in case of a disaster.

Swedish Mother and Son on Air France Flight

Just this week, a 34-year-old Christine Badre Schnabl and her 5-year-old son Philipe were two of the presumed dead aboard the Air France flight that crashed over the Atlantic Ocean. The Swedish woman's husband and 3-year-old daughter traveled separately.

The European press reported that the family wanted to use up air miles and booked two flights.

The news touched a nerve in parents who worry about the safest way to travel as a family.

"And rightfully so," said Alison Rhodes, a national child safety expert known as the Safety Mom.

"I think 9/11 changed the way we think about air safety," she told ABCNews.com. "There is something to be said for the two philosophies. My point of view is every safety decision is a personal matter."

What is important, she said, is clearly communicating with relatives about "what needs to happen" if there is an emergency when one or both parents perish in a crash.

Stacy DeBroff, 48, of Boston was unprepared for the loss of both her parents in the 1974 Pan American crash in Pago Pago, American Samoa. The pair was coming home after visiting relatives in New Zealand when the Boeing 747 landed short of the runway in a tropical storm.

Chemicals in the hold exploded and only nine people were able to escape over the wings.

Air Crash Orphan Never Flies With Husband

Ever since having two children -- aged 16 and 15 -- she and her husband always take separate flights, arriving within a half hour of each other.

"Our policy is that we will fly together if the whole family travels together," she told ABCNews.com. "And the truth is, it's worked great."

But without the children, the couple takes two flights. "It gives us peace of mind that if tragedy should strike, we have one of us left standing to raise our kids," DeBroff said.

Just days before their trip to Hawaii after the terrorist attacks of 2001, Sandra Grimshaw, 49, and her husband changed their long-standing flight and since then travel separately.

She would like to split the family up when the children travel, but worries, "It's Sophie's Choice, however, deciding who goes with whom."

"I'm not comfy with it, but that's how it has worked since then," she told ABCNews.com. "It seems to always be a discussion."

Shiva Sarram, 37, of New Canaan, Conn., views this decision as her responsibility as a parent.

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