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Flashback Fridays: California Girls Meet "Airplane" at Los Angeles International

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The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only. There is no stopping in a red zone.

Airline employees and avgeeks immediately recognize that line from the 1980 movie Airplane.  The airport scenes were shot at TWA’s Terminal 3 at Los Angeles International (LAX), and the sign above is familiar to anyone who has seen the movie.  A little known fact is that when Southwest began service to LAX on my 30th birthday, September 18, 1982 (I promise this really isn’t all about me), we operated out of the TWA terminal—the very same terminal used for Airplane.  Our current facility, Terminal 1, didn’t open until 1984.  These photos are the only ones I have found that show our facilities in Terminal 3.


As a bonus, not only are these photos from the “Airplane terminal,” they feature beautiful “California Girls.”  (The Beach Boys grew up in nearby Hawthorne.)  Through extensive, exhaustive, and highly stressful research, I can report that the women in the photo above are contestants in the Miss California USA pageant for 1983.  Among the contestants for the 1983 crown was Mariska Hargitay, Miss Beverly Hills.  Unfortunately, the beautiful future star of Law and Order SVU isn’t in any of these photos.  However, the fact that we see contestants from the Bay Area in this photo indicates that this was a publicity event and not a travel event.  The contestants are standing next to the jetbridge entrance for Gate 31, which was a gate we shared with the landlord, TWA.  This area is an extension off the main building.


Southwest had a checkin podium for Gate 31 located in the main part of the concourse.  Unfortunately, the destination for the flight is blocked from our view. The little girl is staring at the photographer, but most seem drawn to something outside of the picture frame.


Possibly, they are looking at the contestants posing for the video camera.  Here’s another clue that this is a photo shoot and not a travel event.  Take a look at the size of those bags.  Those bags would never fit in a 1983 overhead bin.  I apologize that some of the photos are out of focus, which may explain why they haven’t been seen before, but I thought the rarity of the subject matter overrides the picture quality.


Here we get a good view of an expanse of the Terminal 3 concourse.  Who knows, the Zucker brothers could have placed their Airplane cameras in this very spot?  At LAX, each concourse was called a satellite, which reflects the fact that space really was the next frontier when the terminal complex opened in 1961.  I can remember spending a 1962 Sunday afternoon in this very satellite while my father counted TWA boardings to Chicago for his employer, Continental.  While Dad was involved with overt intelligence gathering, I wandered over to a gate where one of the last TWA Constellations to serve LAX was parked.  The fact that it was departing to Albuquerque and my former home, Amarillo, only added to the interest. 


Above, we see the suitcases being set up for the shoot.  Thanks to my extensive research, these two contestants from the San Diego area were two of the five finalists in the pageant.  Miss San Diego County on the left is Sharon Jones, and Miss Greater San Diego is Lisa Longacre.  (The pageant was won by Miss Westwood, Julie Hayek, who went on to win Miss USA.  She later had roles in Dallas, Twin Peaks, and As the World Turns.)  This photo gives us another view of the Terminal 3 satellite, and it looks pretty much the way it did when it opened.  Even today, this satellite is probably the closest to “as built” of any of the 1961 facilities at LAX.  Of course, TWA disappeared over a decade ago, and JetBlue, Virgin Australia, and Virgin America are the main occupants in the terminal at present. (I later found out that AirTran still operates out of Terminal 3.)  However, thanks to Airplane, is this the most famous airline terminal in the country?

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Just wanted to comment about this article. I don't remember this photo being taken, but was pleasantly surprised when I saw it come up on a random Google search. I had to take a double-take. I recognized the other girls first and myself last. LOL! Thanks for the walk down memory lane in "Flashback Fridays: California Girls Meet "Airplane" at Los Angeles International."
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I just confirmed that indeed we did fly on PSA. Sorry. it was all a publicity stunt! 🙂 Sorry about that!
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Glad we could take you back to such a fun memory Karen. It looks like it was a hoot!