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Lessons of Southwest Air

Stocks in this article: LUV DAL

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- What is most amazing about the recent Southwest Airlines (LUV) accident at LaGuardia airport in New York, and the earlier Asiana accident in San Francisco, is how rare such incidents are and how few casualties they cause in 2013.

Any airplane accident is a big deal, and now that the ubiquity of cell-phone cameras means we get to see them, or (as in the case of Southwest's LaGuardia accident) ride along inside them, they're an even bigger deal.

So what is the bottom line? For investors, it's that flying is a marginal business. Shortly after its LaGuardia accident, Southwest missed the runway on its quarterly earnings, again, reporting flat revenue and lower profits despite successfully hedging its fuel costs.

Personally, Southwest has long been my favorite way to fly. Before it came into the Atlanta market, I drove to Birmingham, Ala., for its lower fares. It eschews the "romance of the air" nonsense. Southwest knows it's a bus getting you where you need to go. The most romantic thing about Southwest is its ticker symbol, LUV.

It also a sense of humor about things. Here's an actual Southwest gate announcement I heard in Las Vegas last week. "Flight from Kansas City is arriving at Gate B7. If you ever wondered what people from Kansas City look like, here they are."

Southwest flies just one type of plane, the 737, so it keeps maintenance costs low. It flies point-to-point, not hub-and-spoke, and so planes are in the air longer. Once my mom and I had the same wait for our planes in Orange County, but her Southwest gate sent out three flights in the time it took Delta (DAL) to send out my one.

Mom turned 90 last week. I flew Southwest to California to be with her, practically on the spur of the moment. I wouldn't have done that with any other airline.

My mom has flown a lot, and she's a big Southwest fan. Instead of assigning seats, it assigns boarding numbers. With her age and infirmities, mom always gets the front-row aisle seat. She says Southwest's people treat her with respect, rather than like a child, as other airlines do.

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