Ancient Airlines: A look at unique and quirky airlines throughout aviation history
It may sound like a bad joke, but yes, Hooters Air was definitely a real airline and, yes, it was owned by that restaurant. You know the one — with the scantily clad waitresses and the pretty good hot wings. So, how exactly did a slightly questionable restaurant chain start and successfully operate an airline, at least for the approximately three years it was in business?
Founded in 2003, Hooters Air was operated by Pace Airlines, which the restaurant chain creator owned as well (Pace Airlines, by the way, is out of business now, too, ceasing all operations in 2009). The airline started as a way to drum up business for the restaurant, but then people actually flew it, with the airline’s primary demographic being golfers flying to Myrtle Beach (where the airline was based), before Hooters Air expanded to reach other popular destinations throughout the entire country.
Believe it or not, Hooters Air wasn’t known for particularly bad service and it offered direct flights at a low cost (many flights were a flat rate of $129, one-way). Seats offered a generous 34-inch pitch and a business-class-style seating arrangement. Alongside the traditionally attired flight crew, Hooters Girls would help out the flight attendants, though they were prevented from serving the drinks and free meals available to passengers on all flights over an hour. Since the Hooters Girls did not have FAA certification or even basic training, they couldn’t push food carts or operate any equipment, including hospitality equipment, aboard the aircraft, so they ended up doing more entertainment-type tasks, like hosting trivia.
Over time, Hooters Air, operating a small fleet of Boeing 737-200, 737-300 and 757-200 aircraft, expanded to reach 15 total destinations including popular Florida cities, Newark, Myrtle Beach, Denver, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Houston, Puerto Rico and small markets in select Midwestern states. Many of the airline’s small destinations touted the extra travelers the airline brought to the regions, bolstering the areas’ economies.
So where did Hooters Air go wrong?
Despite the airline being ripe for jokes from all angles, there were other issues that lead to Hooters Air costing Hooters of America over $40 million.
The downward projection began in 2005, when the airline announced it would end its service to Rockford, Illinois, outside of Chicago, in 2006, due to competition from United Airlines on its route from Denver.
After that, in early 2006, all commercial services stopped. Charter services continued through April 2006, at which point Hooters Air canceled all public charter services and refunded passenger tickets.
Hooters Air blamed its demise on fuel costs following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which both hit in 2005. Other factors could’ve been the airline’s founding shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, at which point air travel was down overall. Additionally, it faced new competition from other low-cost airlines coming onto the market, such as Southwest.
Regardless of the reason, the Hooters brand went back to what it did best (even though most who experienced Hooters Air, both crew and passengers alike, don’t necessarily have anything negative to say about their flight experiences with the airline). Focusing on beer and wings, Hooters went on to expand its brand in the United States and beyond, seeing success despite its little financial hiccup called Hooters Air.