Pacific Southwest Airlines

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This article is about the airline that operated from 1949 to 1988. For the US Airways commuter airline, see PSA Airlines. For the present day airline based in Texas, see Southwest Airlines. For the airline that currently uses the IATA Code PS, see Ukraine International Airlines.
Pacific Southwest Airlines
PSA Airlines Logo.svg
Founded 1949
Ceased operations 1988 (integrated into USAir)
Airport lounge Presidents Club
Fleet size 75
Destinations 31
Company slogan Catch our Smile
Parent company PSA Inc. (1949–1986)
USAir (1987–1988)
Headquarters San Diego, California
Key people Kenny Friedkin
(Founder and Original President)
Jean Friedkin
(Founder and Original Vice President)
Eleanor Glithero
(PSA's first employee)

Pacific Southwest Airlines was a United States airline headquartered in San Diego, California that operated from 1949 to 1988. It was the first large discount airline in the United States. PSA called itself "The World's Friendliest Airline" and painted a smile on the nose of its airplanes, the PSA Grinningbirds. Opinion L.A. of the Los Angeles Times called PSA "practically the unofficial flag carrier airline of California for almost 40 years."[1]

PSA is one of the four airlines that formed US Airways, the others being America West Airlines, Piedmont Airlines and Allegheny Airlines. US Airways merged with American Airlines in 2014.

PSA's Boeing customer number was 14. Following the merger with USAir, the PSA name was given to Jetstream International Airlines to preserve the PSA name and trademarks.


A Lockheed L-188 Electra of PSA in flight around 1959.
PSA 1953 logo
A PSA Boeing 737-200 with the “smiling” livery in 1974.

Kenny Friedkin founded the airline in 1949 with a $1,000-a-month leased Douglas DC-3. Friedkin obtained information from a travel agent upon starting the airline due to lessons learned from the failed precursor airline (Friedkin Airlines).[2] The DC-3 inaugurated a weekly round trip from San Diego to Oakland via Burbank. Reservations were initially taken from a World War II surplus latrine refitted as a ticket office. In 1951 PSA flights moved from Oakland to SFO. In 1955 PSA bought two Douglas DC-4s from Capital Airlines and painted boxes around the windows to make the planes resemble the Douglas DC-6.

In January 1958 they scheduled 37 DC-4s a week Burbank to San Francisco (29 of which originated in San Diego) and four nonstops SAN to SFO; fare BUR to SFO was $9.99. United, Western and TWA then had 241 nonstops each week LAX to SFO and 49 flights a week BUR-SFO. About half their flights were First Class only ($22.05); the rest carried coach passengers for $13.50. (All fares were subject to 10% federal tax.) Later in 1958 PSA shifted some flights from Burbank to LAX; that year it carried 296000 passengers.

PSA began flying Lockheed Electras in November 1959;[3] with 92 seats and a six-seat lounge the Electras replaced 70-seat DC-4s. Boeing 727-114s, Boeing 727-214s and Boeing 737-214s replaced the Electras between 1966 and 1970. The May 1965 OAG shows 103 Electras a week LAX-SFO, 32/week LAX-OAK, 34/week BUR-SFO and 5/week SAN-SFO. LAX-SFO was scheduled 60 minutes, BUR-SFO was 55. In 1966 PSA started flying to San Jose, and in 1967 to Sacramento (SAC, that is; later that year they and everyone else moved to SMF.) They added Ontario in 1968 and Long Beach, Fresno and Stockton in 1971–72. Starting in 1974 PSA briefly operated Lockheed L-1011s before deeming them unprofitable and selling them; PSA's L-1011-1s were unique in having lower deck seating.[4] Electras returned in 1975 for flights to Lake Tahoe that ended in 1979.

After airline deregulation PSA expanded beyond California to Reno, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Tucson, and Albuquerque. Their first flight beyond California was Oakland to Reno in December 1978. The airline introduced automated ticketing and check-in machines at several airports, and briefly flew to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. When PSA's plan to buy the assets of Braniff International Airways fell flat, the airline expanded their network north to Washington, Oregon and Idaho. PSA used new BAe 146s to smaller airports like Eureka, California and Concord, California. PSA held their "Name the Plane" contest, publicized in full-page newspaper ads, to name the fleet, with the prize being a private flight for the winner and 99 friends. The winning entry was Smiliner submitted by Dr. Hugh Jordan of Whittier, CA.[5]

Revenue Passenger-Miles/Kilometers, in millions
Year Traffic
1964 490 RPMs
1968 1232 RPMs
1970 1585 RPMs
1973 3116 RPKs
1979 4527 RPKs
1985 5670 RPKs
Source: Air Transport World

In 1986 Western and AirCal were purchased (by Delta Air Lines and American Airlines respectively).

An hour after the AirCal deal was announced PSA agreed to merge with USAir, which was completed in 1987. PSA's last flight was on April 8, 1988. The PSA route network slowly disintegrated within USAir and was gone by 1994. Most of the former airline's assets were scrapped or moved to USAir's hubs on the East Coast. PSA's base at San Diego International Airport was gutted and now serves as that airport's commuter terminal. PSA had planned from the start to become a nationwide carrier, but this never came to fruition. By the time of the merger PSA's route system covered the western United States as far east as Colorado and New Mexico.

In the San Diego Aerospace Museum a display showcases PSA, the city's hometown airline.

PSA was one of the sponsors of The Dating Game TV show on ABC from 1965 to 1973.

US Airways Airbus A319 painted in PSA's livery

After the 2005 merger of US Airways and America West, a US Airways Airbus A319 was repainted in PSA's livery as one of four heritage aircraft commemorating the airlines that merged to form the present-day US Airways. The aircraft was dedicated at San Diego International Airport's commuter terminal (PSA's former operations base) on March 30, 2006, and flew routes similar to PSA's.

Corporate culture[edit]

PSA was known for their sense of humor. Founder Ken Friedkin wore Hawaiian shirts and encouraged his pilots and stewardesses to joke with passengers. Their slogan was "The World's Friendliest Airline", and its recognizable trademark was a smile painted on the nose of each plane and an accompanying ad campaign declaring "Catch Our Smile."[6] Because of the major San Diego flight schedule and because of the discount fares, military personnel nicknamed PSA the "Poor Sailor's Airline."[7] After PSA was bought by USAir, ex-PSA mechanics would occasionally paint smiles on USAir planes as a joke.[8]

An example of the PSA smile on one of its Lockheed L-1011 TriStars.

During the 1960s, PSA was also known for the brightly colored flight attendant uniforms that included miniskirts. In the early 1970s, the fashion changed to hotpants.[7] One PSA flight attendant, Marilyn Tritt, wrote a book about her tenure at the company titled Long Legs and Short Nights (ISBN 0-9649577-0-1).

Management diversified in the early seventies into a broadcasting venture called 'PSA Broadcasting". Stations were purchased in Sacramento (96.9 KPSC later KEZC), San Jose (106.5 KEZD later KEZR), Los Angeles (107.5 KPSA later KLVE), and San Diego (102.9 KEZL now KLQV). All ran easy listening formats (hence EZ call letter combinations). The idea was to keep some of the airline's ad dollars within the broadcasting company as well as collect some co-op (cooperative advertising) from businesses doing business with the airline. These stations were sold to various interests in the late seventies.

Two PSA flight attendants disembarking one of the company's aircraft.

Throughout PSA's lifetime as an airline, the flight attendants, with their humor, over-the-top passenger service, and sense of duty, helped to create a loyal passenger following. One flight attendant, Sandy Daniels, with the help of a frequent flyer, started the "Precious Stewardess Association". Frequent fliers would bring tasty treats to the crew, particularly on morning flights. In turn, PSA started the "Precious Passenger Association", with certificates and free drinks given to friendly and helpful passengers.

Ken Friedkin's son Tom was a PSA pilot in 1962 when the elder Friedkin died abruptly of a stroke. He was 47 years old. A year later, Tom Friedkin's mother died, making him the largest shareholder of PSA. Tom had a seat on the Board of Directors, but continued working as a full-time pilot for the airline.[7]

Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher studied PSA extensively and used many of the airline's ideas to form the corporate culture at Southwest, and even on early flights used the same "Long Legs And Short Nights" theme for stewardesses on board typical Southwest Airlines flights.

PSA actually helped train the first class of mechanics for Southwest Airlines and lent the fledgling carrier flight manuals and other needed items.


The PSA headquarters were located in a windowless gray-brown building along Harbor Drive in San Diego, California.[9][10] Currently, the building serves as San Diego International Airport's commuter terminal.[citation needed]

Incidents and accidents[edit]

  • On January 15, 1969, a PSA Boeing 727-100 collided with Cessna 182 N42242 while it was climbing to its cruising altitude. Both aircraft were in controlled airspace on the same frequency. The 727 continued on to Ontario and made a safe landing. The right wing of the Cessna was damaged, so it returned to San Francisco.[11]
  • On March 5, 1974, a PSA NAMC YS-11 training aircraft's engines failed, resulting in the aircraft crashing in the desert near Borrego Springs, California. The plane was doing a simulated landing stall. All of the four crew members survived the crash. The aircraft was written off.[12]
  • On September 25, 1978, PSA Flight 182, a Boeing 727-200, crashed in San Diego while trying to land at Lindbergh Field (San Diego International Airport), California, after colliding with a Cessna 172 operated by Gibbs Flite Center. The 727 crashed at the intersection of Dwight and Nile. The Cessna fell a few blocks away. All 135 on board the PSA were killed, as were the two people on the Cessna and seven on the ground. At the time, it was the deadliest plane crash in U.S. history; it is still the worst mid-air collision in the United States.[13] A lawsuit argued by Gary Aguirre resulted in a verdict against PSA for damages.[14]
  • On December 7, 1987, PSA Flight 1771, a BAe 146, bound for San Francisco International Airport from Los Angeles International Airport, was airborne above the central coast of California when it suddenly entered a high-speed nosedive and crashed on a cattle ranch near the small coastal town of Cayucos in San Luis Obispo County. Investigations determined that David Burke, a former employee of USAir (who had recently acquired PSA) who had been fired for theft, had armed himself and boarded the flight, which was carrying his former manager. After writing a note on an air sickness bag, Burke then shot his ex-manager, a flight attendant, both pilots, and possibly the airline's chief pilot, causing the aircraft to crash. After shooting the pilots, Burke pushed down on the control column, causing it to enter the dive. All 43 aboard the jetliner, including 38 passengers and 5 crew members, perished.[15]


There were several attempted hijackings which resulted in no injuries and the surrender of the often lone hijacker. These incidents are not included. The following are notable hijackings because of fatalities or success in forcing the aircraft to fly to another country

  • On January 7, 1972, PSA 902, a Boeing 727-200 flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles was hijacked to Cuba. The captain negotiated release of the passengers in Los Angeles and the hijackers, armed with a shotgun and other arms, were taken to Cuba[16] with a fueling stop in Tampa where they released custody of the aircraft back to the captain. Three flight attendants and three off-duty flight attendants were not released with the passengers and accompanied the flight to Cuba.[17]
  • On July 5, 1972, PSA Flight 710, a Boeing 737-200 flight from Sacramento, California to San Francisco was hijacked with demands to fly to the Soviet Union. The plane was stormed while on the ground at San Francisco, resulting in the death of one passenger and the two hijackers.[18] One of the passengers, who survived being shot in the back, was actor Victor Sen Yung, best known as Hop Sing from the Bonanza television series. One other passenger was shot and survived.[19][20]
  • On May 1, 1980, PSA Flight 818 from Stockton to Los Angeles with 8 people on board was hijacked. The hijacker demanded to be taken to Iran, but was overpowered by Alan Romatowski, the pilot left on board the aircraft.[21]


Passengers board an airplane in rainy weather.

PSA served many destinations, though not all at the same time. The following is a list of known PSA destinations.[22][23]





New Mexico








Final fleet[edit]

PSA fleet details at the time of its merger shutdown into USAir:

Pacific Southwest Airlines Fleet
Aircraft Total Passengers
Douglas DC-9-31 3 107
Douglas DC-9-32 1 107
BAe 146-200 24 85
BAe 146-100 1
McDonnell-Douglas MD-81 23 150
McDonnell-Douglas MD-82 12 150

Historic fleet[edit]

Historic PSA fleet:

1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s
Douglas DC-3/C-47 Skytrain
Douglas DC-4/C-54 Skymaster
McDonnell Douglas MD-80
Lockheed L-188 Electra
Lockheed TriStar
Lockheed L-188 Electra
Boeing 727
1964–1985 (includes series -100 and -200 aircraft)
Boeing 737-200
Douglas DC-9-30
Douglas DC-9-30
  • PSA continued to operate the DC-4/C-54 equipment for charter flights until 1961.
  • The L-1011 "Mother Grinningbirds" which PSA had removed from scheduled service were then leased to other airlines and companies until they were sold in 1985 to Worldways Canada.
A PSA Lockheed L-1011 TriStar before delivery.

Historic PSA fleet details:

Historic Pacific Southwest Airlines fleet
Aircraft Total Passengers PSA name
Douglas DC-3/C-47 Skytrain 9
Douglas DC-4/C-54 Skymaster 4
Lockheed L-188 Electra 9 Super Electra Jet/Electrode/Trode
Douglas DC-6B 1
Boeing 727-14 9
Boeing 727-114 1
Boeing 727-173C 2
Boeing 727-51 5
Boeing 727-81 1
Boeing 727-214 18
Boeing 727-2J7A 2
Boeing 727-214A 7
Boeing 727-254 5
Boeing 727-2QA 1
Bell 206 1
Boeing 737-214 12 Fat Albert or FA
Boeing 737-293 2 Fat Albert or FA
Douglas DC-9-31 4 107
Douglas DC-9-32 2 107
Lockheed L-1011-1 TriStar 2 Mother Grinningbird
McDonnell Douglas MD-81 21 156-150
McDonnell Douglas MD-82 17 156-150
BAe 146-100 1 Smiliner
BAe 146-100A 2 Smiliner
BAe 146-200 5 100-85 Smiliner
BAe 146-200A 19 100-85 Smiliner

PSA Training Fleet[edit]

The following aircraft were used for training only. They never saw actual passenger service.

Historic List Of Aircraft PSA used for training:[35]

Pacific Southwest Airlines Training Aircraft Fleet
Aircraft Total
Piper Aztec 28R-180 1
Bell 47-G4A 1
Beech Bonanza F33-A 7
Piper Aztec 23-350 9
Piper Commanche 24-260 5
Learjet 24 1
Piper Aztec 23-250 5
NAMC YS-11A-202 1
NAMC YS-11A-212 1
Brantly B-2 1
Beech 99 1


  1. ^ "Southwest Airlines has a flashback -- emphasis flash." Los Angeles Times. March 3, 2009. Retrieved on February 18, 2010.
  2. ^ PSA History;Trinkle, Kevin;Retrieved 6/2/11
  3. ^ Airlift December 1959
  4. ^ The PSA History/Olditimers Page - Lockheed L-1011 - Trinkle, Kevin; Retrieved 8/24/10[dead link],
  5. ^ Dr. Hugh Jordan OESCA Memorial Page
  6. ^ "PSA's Spring SuperSmile fares...". Spokane Chronicle. advertisement. March 24, 1987. p. A9. 
  7. ^ a b c Forbes Magazine: October 1, 2001-Under the Radar by Doug Donovan
  8. ^ Trinkle, Kevin. "Smiles on US Airways". The PSA History Page. Retrieved 2014-01-07. 
  9. ^ Ray, Nancy. "CORPORATE 'FAMILY' MOURNS." Los Angeles Times. September 27, 1978. Start Page SD_A9. Retrieved on February 18, 2010.
  10. ^ "World Airline Directory." Flight International. March 31, 1984. 876.
  11. ^
  12. ^ ASN accident NAMC YS-11A-202 N208PA Borrego Springs, California Retrieved 2008-04-08
  13. ^ ASN accident Boeing 727-214 N533PS San Diego International Airport, CA (SAN) Retrieved 2009-04-01
  14. ^ Ted Vollmer, "PSA Ruled Liable for Crash Damage Claims", Los Angeles Times San Diego County Edition (August 15, 1979)
  15. ^ ASN aircraft accident British Aerospace BAe-146-200 N350PS Paso Robles, CA
  16. ^ ASN Aircraft accident Boeing 727 ?
  17. ^ Airliner Magazine, November, 2000
  18. ^ ASN Aircraft accident Boeing 737-200 San Francisco International Airport, CA (SFO)
  19. ^ Ada Evening News, July 6, 1972, p. 1
  20. ^ Emch, Tom (September 12, 2009). "Anatomy of a Hijack". SF Chronicle and Examiner (originally published September 1972). Retrieved 1 April 2013. 
  21. ^
  22. ^ The PSA/Oldtimers Page
  23. ^ PSA Pacific Southwest Airlines bag tags
  24. ^ The PSA History/Olditimers Page - Douglas DC-3 - Trinkle, Kevin; Retrieved 9/24/10
  25. ^ The PSA History/Olditimers Page - Douglas DC-4 - Trinkle, Kevin; Retrieved 9/24/10
  26. ^ The PSA History/Olditimers Page - Lockheed Electra - Trinkle, Kevin; Retrieved 9/24/10
  27. ^ The PSA History/Olditimers Page - Douglas DC-6B - Trinkle, Kevin; Retrieved 9/24/10
  28. ^ The PSA History/Olditimers Page - Boeing 727 - Trinkle, Kevin; Retrieved 9/24/10
  29. ^ The PSA History/Olditimers Page - Boeing 727 - Trinkle, Kevin; Retrieved 9/24/10
  30. ^ The PSA History/Olditimers Page - Douglas DC-9 - Trinkle, Kevin; Retrieved 9/24/10
  31. ^ The PSA History/Olditimers Page - Lockheed L-1011 - Trinkle, Kevin; Retrieved 8/24/10
  32. ^ The PSA History/Oldtimers Page - Super 80 - Trinkle, Kevin; Retrieved 9/24/10
  33. ^ The PSA History/Oldtimers Page - The Smiliner (BAe 146) - Trinkle, Kevin; Retrieved 9/24/10
  34. ^ Kissel, Gary. Poor Sailors' Airline: a History of Pacific Southwest Airlines. McLean, VA: Paladwr, 2002. Print.ISBN 1-888962-18-6
  35. ^ Trinkle, Kevin. "Flight Training" - The PSA History/Olditimers Page - Retrieved 2009-3-28

External links[edit]