California’s Pacific Southwest Airlines – PSA for short – was well known for its unique approach to the airline business. From hiring only the smartest and prettiest stewardesses, to playing pranks on passengers, they certainly stood out among the other staid carriers of the time.

The airline used to award passengers a prize for being the one millionth customer, two millionth and so on. Originally these were two round trip tickets to anywhere on the network. However, these eventually became old hat and so the staff got creative…

Creative Prizes, Including… A Cow?!

Advertising and PR came up with the idea of giving the next millionth passenger a five foot salami wrapped in bows and ribbons as a prize. Media types loved it, especially when the person got to his destination still cradling his meat.

Another customer in Burbank was awarded a stuffed white rabbit which was four feet tall, dressed in a t-shirt that said, “Pure, Sober and Available” and a PSA baseball cap. The businessman asked to collect it upon his return, but his request was declined, so he flew with it to San Francisco, where press took photos of him with it.

The final straw in the one-upmanship as to who could give the best prize was the winner from Los Angeles. He was awarded a certificate, but the real prize came when he landed in San Francisco. At the bottom of the stairs to the plane, he was handed a rope, on the other end of which was a live cow. Now I don’t know about you, but that would freak me out just a little bit. After all, what do you do with a cow?!

He tried to give it back, was denied, and all the PSA people left, leaving the guy stranded with a cow on the tarmac at an airport. Of course, the PSA people came back minutes later and traded the cow for free tickets and that was the end of the prank. SFO management were not impressed, as large numbers of passengers from other airlines watched the whole shebang from the terminal, crowding the windows and blocking access while trying to see out the windows. As a result, they went back to things like tickets and Champagne for prizes.

Overall Thoughts

This kind of creative working environment with a huge focus on the customer really appeals to me, and I really wish I had been old enough (and American enough!) to have worked at PSA. Instead, I got to read about it in detail in the book “Poor Sailors’ Airline” by Gary Kissel, which is also where the above stories (p169-171) and the Snoopy picture come from.

The California airline and its people were certainly unique. While they are no longer around (absorbed into the decidedly bland USAir in 1988), many of their ideas live on with Texas based Southwest Airlines. Southwest sent a delegation to California to study PSA’s methods closely when designing their own business model. Many of the ideas attributed to Southwest actually originated at PSA.

Did you ever fly with Pacific Southwest Airlines in California? Have you any stories to tell? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

Like planes? See my “Does anyone remember” series.
Flight reviews your thing? Mine are all indexed here.
Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Featured image via Wikiwand.