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Southwest Airlines has a flashback -- emphasis flash

March 3, 2009 | 11:06 pm

Ew. No, really. This is just ... distasteful.

Southwest Airlines has adorned one of its 737s with a huuuge illustration of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model named Bar Refaeli reclining along the fuselage, cleavage at about Row Two, white-bikinied crotch over the wing, feet nearing the very back row.

This turns out to be an even worse idea than airlines trying to charge passengers for water. The Fort Worth newspaper says some passengers complained about having to board a plane "plastered with soft porn."

With its low fares and jokey crew banter, Southwest is the spiritual airline heir to the departed PSA, Pacific Southwest Airlines, which was practically California's unofficial in-state airline for almost 40 years, until 1988, when it finally gave up the ghost in a merger with USAir. Its fares were very cheap, and standby fares were affordable even for students; I remember flying up to San Francisco late one afternoon at the last minute for some concert, flying back that same night, and getting change out of seventy bucks.

Unfortunately, PSA sometimes made too much of its motto, "The World's Friendliest Airline." There was more to it than the comic cabin patter. A Times reporter wrote in 1971 that you could just as easily call PSA the "Airborne Playboy Club," and he meant it flatteringly. Stewardesses -- for that's what they were called --  often wore miniskirts and, later, "banana-skin tight" hot pants. They were instructed to make nice with the chiefly male passengers -- so much so that you'd have thought they were working for tips instead of $330 a month (the starting salary in 1971).

In that 1971 article, the president of the airline described the ideal "PSA girl" as having "beauty head to toe. Good face. Good build. Flashing eyes. She's the sort of girl who can swing and yet keep herself under control when the passenger goes too far." Not a word about the first responsibility of flight attendants: passenger safety.

I remember boarding a flight one February 14, and after the plane took off, the "PSA girl" went up and down the aisle, handing out drawing materials to the men on board and sing-songing, "Make me a Valentine! Make me a Valentine!"

It wasn't cute, it was ridiculous. I think it demeaned the flight attendants as much as it demeaned passengers, especially women passengers.

When it comes to what should happen to this new fleshly adornment on the Southwest plane, I'll invoke a double entendre that might have suited the old PSA: "Take it off."

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