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Smile No More : PSA's Famous 'Smileliners' Losing Their Grins as USAir Begins Changing Jets to Its Color Scheme

November 25, 1987|GREG JOHNSON | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — USAir is wiping the smiles off Pacific Southwest Airlines' fabled "Smileliners."

Last week, workers began stripping PSA's bright red and orange corporate colors from a BAe-146 airliner. PSA crews spent Tuesday spray painting the airplane with USAir's maroon and red color scheme.

According to airline legend, the first smile was the product of a mischievous maintenance man who, under cover of night, slapped a streak of black paint on the underside of a cockpit.

According to PSA's public relations office, however, the smile was part of a 1969 advertising campaign concocted by Len Gross, a principal with Gross, Pera & Rockey, a San Francisco-based advertising agency.

"Len thought it would be an innovative idea, and he tried to talk (then Chairman) J. Ford Andrews into painting a smile on an airplane," according to PSA spokesman Bill Hastings. "(Ford) kept saying no, but finally he gave in and agreed to paint a smile on one airplane."

PSA's employees and the flying public liked the smile, and by early 1970, "there were smiles on all of PSA's airplanes," according to Hastings.

The long-running "Catch Our Smile" slogan came a few years later, and PSA subsequently began referring to its airliners as "Smileliners."

According to a 1986 marketing study conducted for PSA, only United Air Lines' "Fly the Friendly Skies" slogan enjoyed better recognition among West Coast travelers. In that study, 55% of West Coast respondents correctly identified the PSA slogan. United's "Friendly Skies" was recognized by 83% of West Coast respondents.

Marketing analysts doubt that USAir will miss the smiles or the slogan.

In today's airline industry, "the keys are price and service," according to one airline marketing expert. "If USAir can provide them, then there's no problem" with eliminating the PSA name, slogan and smile.

Aware that PSA employees had grown attached to the smiles and the slogan, USAir Chairman Edwin Colodny last year promised to think "long and hard" before deciding the smile's fate.

Colodny eventually frowned on keeping the smile but USAir did incorporate a tiny grin into a small decal that will be applied to repainted PSA aircraft. The decal suggests that PSA's smile has grown "even wider" now that PSA is a part of USAir.

It will take several months for crews to transform PSA's 59 "Smileliners" into "USAirliners." The repainted aircraft will bear USAir's color scheme and a PSA logo until early in 1988, when the two airlines' operations are slated to be merged.

USAir earlier this year acquired PSA for $400 million. According to terms of the deal, USAir was prohibited from merging the two airlines until early next year.

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