What's 'LUV' Got to Do With Flying?

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Some readers will remember last week's column on crazy airport codes, in which I attempted to explain the logic behind weird ones like Chicago's O'Hare (ORD) and Sioux City, Iowa (SUX).

Stock market symbols can be just as odd.

Take Southwest Airlines. The "bags fly free" discounter was in the news this week, thanks to its proposed acquisition of AirTran -- and most of you are no doubt aware that on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE),Southwest trades as LUV. What do they mean by that? Well, it's a nod to Southwest's headquarters and home airport, Dallas' Love Field.

So why not the stock ticker symbol LOV? Well, a company called Spark Networks is already using LOV and it kind of makes sense, since Spark's "Website communities" are described as places where singles "connect." Ah, romance -- or, whatever.

Southwest, meanwhile, has made good use of LUV, lavishing it on promotional products like the "LUV hoodie" (just $29.99), not to mention the airline's signature heart-shaped swizzle sticks.

Any other stock symbol oddities? Oh, yes.

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Midwest Airlines is another carrier that was stuck with an unusual stock symbol, MEH, which my online urban dictionary defines as "a verbal shrug of the shoulders." I don't know why the carrier's symbol wasn't CKY for its famously warm and delicious baked goods but that's another mystery. Whatever the case, MEH disappeared, when Midwest was taken over by Republic Airlines in 2009. Midwest survives as a brand name only and now that it's merged with Frontier, it'll disappear altogether next year.

The new Frontier, now trades as RJET for parent Republic.

In other merger news, United and Continental will join forces as the new and improved United (as well as the world's biggest airline) and it'll have a new stock symbol as of Oct. 1: UAL. That certainly beats United's current symbol of UAUA, which always struck me as slightly redundant.

That new ticker symbol may also eliminate some geographic confusion for Continental, which trades as CAL and operates under the airline code of CO, even though it is headquartered in TX. Go figure.

So where do these symbols come from? According to the NYSE, "in each marketplace, the NYSE, the American Stock Exchange, and others -- allocates symbols for companies within its purview, working closely to avoid duplication."

They obviously work closely with the companies themselves. How else to explain Harley-Davidson's near-perfect stock symbol of HOG? Or the Molson Coors Brewing Company's delightfully evocative symbol TAP.

More puzzling is the symbol that the piano artisans over at Steinway use: LVG. Give up? Steinway's website explains it this way: "Our symbol pays respect to the German composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven." An odd tribute, perhaps, but no doubt heartfelt.

Frankly, none of the airlines have anything so good, although Hawaiian trades as HA, which could symbolize their joy over always topping those Department of Transportation on time departure lists. Of course, Honolulu flights are rarely delayed by blizzards.

But maybe it's time the airlines got a little more creative with their stock symbols.

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