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Remembering Hooters Air: The Restaurant's Attempt to Launch an Airline

Remembering Hooters Air: The Restaurant's Attempt to Launch an Airline

BY LUKAS WOERNER Published on April 02, 2024 0 COMMENTS

Not many people remember that Hooters, the raunchy restaurant chain, had owned an airline briefly in the early 2000s. Hooters Air, as it was called, was a US-based budget airliner that serviced a seven-aircraft fleet out of the American Southeast. Although met with generally favorable reviews, the brand ultimately could not scale itself in the market and became defunct. However, it was fun while it lasted.


The Epic Rise and Fall of Hooters Air
Photo: Getty Images


Hooters, the popular American restaurant chain, was founded in 1983 by Robert Brooks. Although it had a slow start, the restaurant chain quickly grew nationwide and expanded into different markets, including merchandising and media. Brooks saw the opportunity to develop his market share by purchasing Pace Airlines in late 2002. 




Pace Airlines, a small North Carolina-based airliner, was experiencing financial troubles before the acquisition. The original intent of the purchase was to diversify his business holdings and to use the new airline as a “flying billboard,” promoting the brand’s other products. Each aircraft used by the company was branded with the iconic Hooters owl and contained bright orange letters, letting everyone know they were passing by.


The Epic Rise and Fall of Hooters Air
Photo: Getty Images


The fleet used by Hooters Air includes seven total aircraft, all Boeing models. The plane included six variants of the Boeing 737 (a mix between the -200 and -300) and one Boeing 757. Regarding selecting a host airport, Brooks identified Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR) as the hub for the small airline. In the early 2000s, Myrtle Beach began to boom as a popular vacation spot for families across the East Coast, boasting a mirage of golf courses. 


At first, the Horry County residents were very receptive to the airline flying out of the region, as it introduced new audiences into the community at a fair price, with all flights having a flat rate of USD 129 each way. Regarding other airports hosting Hooters flights, the airline could only receive multiple flights out of tertiary airports across the US and Caribbean, such as Gary/Chicago International Airport (GYY), which featured the first Hooters Air departure in 2003.


Hooters Launched An Airline That Went Bust After Three Years
Photo: LADBible


One of the controversial elements of the Hooters brand was their use of the so-called ‘Hooters Girls’ as their main front-of-house staff. Controversial and, at times, the subject of abuse, many feared that the airplane staff would mimic this branding. However, the FAA licensed and standardized the pilots and the air stewards. 




Each flight did include a pair of Hooters Girls, but they were used more as a master of ceremonies compared to having any functionality on the operations of the aircraft. Some flight attendants shared that they had not experienced anything as unexpected on the plane as some onlookers might expect.


For those who didn't know, Hooters Airline existed : r/aviation
Photo: Reddit


So, what was so different about Hooters Air compared to the competition? In all honesty, Hooters Air operated the same way as any other budget airline. Except for the two Hooters Girls on the plane and having a standard flat rate fee for travel, there was not too much of a competitive difference. And, even though alcohol was available on each flight, it was served in the same manner as any other airliner, so flights remained relatively sober.


For the first couple of years of business, Hooters Air operated smoothly. Although not met with the commercial success that ownership might have wanted, it did run relatively issue-free and serviced many mid-major markets across the Southeast. Ultimately, the airline began to decrease operations following the summer of 2005. As there was not much of a competitive advantage in the space, people began to use other airlines to visit more attractive destinations than Myrtle Beach. 


The Epic Rise and Fall of Hooters Air
Photo: Getty Images


Additionally, the economy began to decline around the same time, leading to a lack of disposable income for family vacations. Shortly after the last flight in April 2006, Brooks passed away, signaling a new era for the slowly dying restaurant chain. Estimates believe that the airline cost the brand around $40 million.


Although Hooters Air was a flash in the pan, it shows us that the airline industry is hard to crack into. The company did not want to grow the airline; it just wanted to expand its brand. Celebrity-backed products only grow as far as their brand allows. Rest in peace to Hooters Air. 



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STORIES Hooters South Carolina Myrtle Beach History Boeing 737 Boeing 757 Restaurants Tourism Failure


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