MIAMI – Today in Aviation, Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) operates its first flight with weekly service between San Diego and Oakland, US, in 1949. With a stop in Burbank, California, the carrier began the operation with a leased Douglas DC-3.

Pacific Southwest Airlines was a United States airline that operated from 1949 to 1988 and was based in San Diego, California. It was the United States’ first major low-cost carrier.

The carrier billed itself as “The World’s Friendliest Airline,” and its jets, the PSA Grinningbirds, were decorated with a smile on the nose. PSA has been “practically the unofficial flag carrier airline of California for nearly forty years,” according to the Los Angeles Times’ Opinion L.A.

Initially, the airline served only the state of California as an intrastate carrier. This approach, which avoided the high costs of federal regulation, would later be adopted by Southwest Airlines (WN), which replicated PSA’s success in California in Texas.

The airline ultimately spread to cities in other western states after the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, and finally to many cities in Mexico.

Lockheed L-188 Electra of PSA around 1959. Photo: By SDASM Archives – 01 PSA 053 Uploaded by PDTillman, Public Domain

Early History and First Flight


Kenny Friedkin started the airline in 1949 with a leased Douglas DC-3 for $1,000 a month. Due to lessons learned from a failed predecessor airline, Friedkin received details from a travel agent while launching the airline (Friedkin Airlines).

The DC-3 started flying from San Diego to Oakland via Burbank on a weekly basis on May 6, 1949. Reservations were made at a World War II surplus latrine that had been converted into a ticket office.

The airline then relocated its flights from Oakland to San Francisco International Airport in 1951, and in late 1955, the DC-3s were replaced with two Douglas DC-4s from Capital Airlines, which were painted with rectangles around the windows to resemble the Douglas DC-6.

PSA replaced the 70-seat DC-4s with Lockheed L-188 Electras with 92 seats and a six-seat lounge in late 1959. It received its sixth Electra in 1963, and by that time it had transported more passengers than any other airline between the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

According to an Aviation Week 1971 report, total PSA passengers climbed from 355,000 in 1959 to 1,305,000 in 1963 and 5,162,000 in 1970.

PSA smile on a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar. Photo: By Piergiuliano Chesi, CC BY-SA 3.0

Airline Culture


PSA flight attendants. Photo: By Unknown author – Flickr: 07.05-A-0025, Public Domain

PSA was well-known for its witty satire. Ken Friedkin, the company’s founder, wore Hawaiian shirts and urged his pilots and stewardesses to make passengers laugh. Its slogan was “The World’s Friendliest Airline,” and its recognizable trademark was a smile painted on the nose of each aircraft, along with a marketing campaign that said, “Catch Our Smile.”

In addition, the flight attendants helped to build a loyal passenger following throughout the carrier’s history, thanks to their sense of humor, over-the-top passenger service, and sense of duty. Sandy Daniels, a flight attendant, created the “Precious Stewardess Association” with the aid of a frequent flyer program.

On morning flights, frequent fliers would hold delicious snacks for the crew. In response, PSA established the “Precious Passenger Association,” which awarded certificates and free drinks to passengers who were polite and helpful.

PSA Lockheed L-1011 TriStar before delivery. Photo: By Piergiuliano Chesi, CC BY-SA 3.0

Legacy and the PSA Brand


Herb Kelleher, the founder of WN, researched PSA extensively and incorporated many of the Pacific Southwest’s concepts into his company’s corporate culture, including using the same “Long Legs And Short Nights” theme for stewardesses on early flights. In addition, PSA assisted WN in training its first class of mechanics and lent the budding carrier flight manuals and other necessary items.

In 1986, PSA became the first of two airlines that merged into the existing USAir. The PSA acquisition was completed in 1988. USAir, later US Airways, renamed Jetstream International Airlines to PSA Airlines (OH) in November 1995 to secure the trademark of Pacific Southwest Airlines. PSA also relocated its corporate headquarters to Vandalia, Ohio later that month.

In 2005, after its second bankruptcy filing, America West Airlines acquired US Airways, continuing with the name until it merged with American Airlines (AA) in 2015.

As for the new OH, it announced in August 2015 that it will build a maintenance base at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). A year later, OH would announce that a new 45,000-square-foot maintenance base at the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP).


Featured image: PSA DC-3. Photo: Bill Larkins, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Article source: psaairlines.com