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
IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded 1949
Commenced operations 1949
Ceased operations 1988 (merged into USAir)
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 (PSA) 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] The airline initially operated as an intrastate air carrier wholly within California before expanding to other states after the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.

PSA was one of the four airlines that formed US Airways, the others being America West Airlines, Piedmont Airlines and Allegheny Airlines. PSA merged into USAir in 1988. USAir then changed its name to US Airways which merged with American Airlines in 2013.

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


Lockheed L-188 Electra of PSA around 1959
PSA 1953 logo
Boeing 737-200 in 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 a failed precursor airline (Friedkin Airlines).[2] The DC-3 started 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 San Francisco International. In 1955 PSA bought two Douglas DC-4s from Capital Airlines and painted rectangles around the windows to make the planes resemble the Douglas DC-6.

In January 1958 it scheduled 37 DC-4s a week Burbank to San Francisco (29 of which originated in San Diego) and four nonstop flights San Diego to San Francisco; the fare from Burbank to San Francisco was $9.99. United, Western and TWA then had 241 nonstop flights each week from Los Angeles to San Francisco and 49 flights a week Burbank-San Francisco. About half of 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 Los Angeles; that year it carried 296,000 passengers.

In late 1959 PSA began flying Lockheed L-188 Electras[3] with 92 seats and a six-seat lounge, replacing 70-seat DC-4s. Boeing 727-114s, Boeing 727-214s and Boeing 737-214s replaced the Electras in 1966-70. The May 1965 OAG shows 103 Electras a week Los Angeles to San Francisco, 32 a week Los Angeles to Oakland, 34 a week Burbank to San Francisco and 5 a week San Diego to San Francisco. Los Angeles-San Francisco was scheduled for 60 minutes, Burbank-San Francisco was 55. In 1966 PSA started flying to San Jose, and in 1967 to Sacramento Executive Airport; later that year they and everyone else moved to the new Sacramento International Airport. Ontario was added in 1968 and Long Beach, Fresno and Stockton in 1971–72. Starting in 1974 PSA briefly operated several wide body Lockheed L-1011 TriStars until 1976 before deeming them unprofitable and selling them; PSA's L-1011-1s were unique in having lower deck seating.[4] The L-1011s flew Los Angeles-San Francisco and San Diego-Los Angeles-San Francisco. PSA was the only US intrastate airline to operate wide body jets. Electras returned in 1975 for flights to Lake Tahoe that ended in 1979. (Lake Tahoe, in the Sierra Nevada, did not allow airline jets until the 1980s except for Pacific Air Lines Boeing 727-100s that briefly flew to there in 1966.) Major intrastate competitor Air California also flew Electras to Lake Tahoe until 1979-80 but returned to Lake Tahoe as AirCal with McDonnell Douglas MD-80s and Boeing 737-300s after the jet ban ended. PSA never served Lake Tahoe after retiring its Electras.

After airline deregulation, PSA expanded beyond California to Reno, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Tucson and Albuquerque. Its 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 in Mexico. When PSA's plan to buy the assets of Braniff International Airways fell through, the airline expanded its network north to Washington, Oregon and Idaho. PSA used new BAe 146s to smaller airports like Eureka, California, and Concord, California. PSA held a "Name the Plane" contest, publicized in full-page newspaper advertisements, to name the fleet, with the prize being a private flight for the winner and 99 friends. The winning entry was Smiliner[5] submitted by Dr. Hugh Jordan of Whittier, California.[6]

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. At the time, PSA was in talks with Boeing about acquiring a Boeing 757-200 but never ordered it. 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 served for a time as that airport's commuter terminal, before being renovated in administrative offices. PSA had planned to become a nationwide carrier; in 1988 PSA routes covered the western United States as far east as Colorado and New Mexico, and north to Washington state.

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

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

US Airways Airbus A319 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, 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 former 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 its sense of humor. Founder Ken Friedkin wore Hawaiian shirts and encouraged his pilots and stewardesses to joke with passengers. Its slogan was "The World's Friendliest Airline", and its trademark was a smile painted on the nose of each plane and an accompanying advertising campaign declaring "Catch Our Smile".[7] Because of the major San Diego flight schedule and its discount fares, military personnel nicknamed PSA the "Poor Sailor's Airline."[8] After PSA was bought by USAir, ex-PSA mechanics would occasionally paint smiles on USAir planes as a joke.[9]

PSA smile on a Lockheed L-1011 TriStars

In 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.[8] 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 1970s into a broadcasting venture called PSA Broadcasting. Radio 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 advertising dollars within the broadcasting company as well as collect some co-op (co-operative advertising) from businesses doing business with the airline. These stations were sold to various interests in the late 1970s.

PSA flight attendants disembarking

Through PSA's life, 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, aged 47. 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.[8]

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 Southwest flights.

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


The PSA headquarters were in a windowless gray-brown building on Harbor Drive in San Diego, California.[10][11] The building was San Diego International Airport's commuter terminal until 2015 when it was converted into administrative offices of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.

Accidents and incidents[edit]

  • On January 15, 1969 a PSA Boeing 727-100 collided with Cessna 182 N42242 while climbing to 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.[12]
  • 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 four crew members survived the crash. The aircraft was written off.[13]
  • 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.[14] A lawsuit argued by Gary Aguirre resulted in a verdict against PSA for damages.[15]
  • On December 7, 1987 PSA Flight 1771, a BAe 146, bound for San Francisco International Airport from Los Angeles International Airport, was 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 (which 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. After shooting the pilots, Burke pushed down on the control column, causing it to enter a dive. The 38 passengers and 5 crew members all died.[16]


There were several attempted hijackings, resulting 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 727-200 flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles was hijacked to Cuba. The captain negotiated the release of the passengers in Los Angeles and the hijackers, armed with a shotgun and other arms, were taken to Cuba[17] with a fueling stop in Tampa where they released 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.[18]
  • On July 5, 1972 PSA Flight 710, a 737-200 flight from Sacramento 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 deaths of one passenger and the two hijackers.[19] One passenger, who survived being shot in the back, was the actor Victor Sen Yung, best known as Hop Sing from the Bonanza television series. One other passenger was shot and survived.[20][21]
  • On May 1, 1980 PSA Flight 818, a 727 flying from Stockton to Los Angeles with eight people aboard, was hijacked. The hijacker demanded to be taken to Iran, but was overpowered by Alan Romatowski, the pilot left on board the aircraft.[22]


Passengers board a PSA Boeing 727 in 1971

PSA served many destinations in the western U.S. and Mexico over the years although not all at the same time.[23][24]





New Mexico







Final fleet[edit]

PSA fleet at the time of its merger 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 DC-4/C-54s continued charter flights until 1961.
  • The L-1011 "Mother Grinningbirds" which PSA had removed from scheduled service were leased to other companies until sold in 1985 to Worldways Canada.
  • PSA operated a single DC-6B between 1960 and 1961 to Oakland, California, while awaiting delivery of an Electra.
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.

List of aircraft PSA used for training:[25]

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 Comanche 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. ^ ;Trinkle, Kevin, PSA History. Retrieved June 2, 2011
  3. ^ Airlift December 1959
  4. ^ The PSA History/Olditimers Page - Lockheed L-1011 - Trinkle, Kevin; Retrieved August 24, 2010, Archived December 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ Smiliner
  6. ^ Dr. Hugh Jordan OESCA Memorial Page
  7. ^ "PSA's Spring SuperSmile fares...". Spokane Chronicle. advertisement. March 24, 1987. p. A9. 
  8. ^ a b c Forbes Magazine: October 1, 2001-Under the Radar by Doug Donovan
  9. ^ Trinkle, Kevin. "Smiles on US Airways". The PSA History Page. Retrieved January 7, 2014. 
  10. ^ Ray, Nancy. "CORPORATE 'FAMILY' MOURNS." Los Angeles Times. September 27, 1978. Start Page SD_A9. Retrieved on February 18, 2010.
  11. ^ "World Airline Directory." Flight International. March 31, 1984. 876.
  12. ^
  13. ^ ASN accident NAMC YS-11A-202 N208PA Borrego Springs, California Retrieved April 8, 2008
  14. ^ ASN accident Boeing 727-214 N533PS San Diego International Airport, CA (SAN) Retrieved April 1, 2009
  15. ^ Ted Vollmer, "PSA Ruled Liable for Crash Damage Claims", Los Angeles Times San Diego County edition (August 15, 1979)
  16. ^ ASN aircraft accident British Aerospace BAe-146-200 N350PS Paso Robles, CA
  17. ^ ASN Aircraft accident Boeing 727 ?
  18. ^ Airliner Magazine, November, 2000
  19. ^ ASN Aircraft accident Boeing 737-200 San Francisco International Airport, CA (SFO)
  20. ^ Ada Evening News, July 6, 1972, p. 1
  21. ^ Emch, Tom (September 12, 2009). "Anatomy of a Hijack". SF Chronicle and Examiner. Retrieved 1 April 2013. 
  22. ^
  23. ^ The PSA/Oldtimers Page
  24. ^ PSA Pacific Southwest Airlines bag tags
  25. ^ Trinkle, Kevin. "Flight Training" - The PSA History/Olditimers Page - Retrieved March 28, 2009

External links[edit]