Hooters Air Prepares for Wilkes-Barre Take-off; Restaurant Not Far Behind

PITTSTON TWP. - When Hooters Air starts service at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport in two months, a restaurant might not be far behind.

Were hoping to have a restaurant in this area maybe next year, said Mark Peterson, president of the airline affiliated with the restaurant chain. I dont think the locations been finalized.

Peterson flew up on one of the airlines orange and white Boeing 737s to announce the addition of Northeastern Pennsylvania to its service area on Tuesday.

The low-fare carrier will fly six, non-stop, round-trip flights a week to the Florida destinations of Orlando, St. Petersburg and Ft. Lauderdale beginning Oct. 27.

Were hoping that theres more to follow, said Barry Centini, airport director.

The airport offered a small incentive package to land Hooters, he said. We believe weve done our job to bring service into this community. Now its up to the community to respond.

Lackawanna County Commissioner Robert Cordaro brought up the failed attempt of another low-fare carrier, Vacation Express last year.

What it showed the wider world was that people wanted to fly from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, he said.

The airport has continued to grow in passenger numbers and is spending more than $70 million to upgrade its facilities, he pointed out.

Peterson noted that with the startup in the fall, Hooters will serve 16 cities. Its closest market is the Allentown area, where it flies out of the Lehigh Valley International Airport.

There isnt a week that goes by that I dont have a community somewhere in this country trying to entice us to start service there, he said. We see something here in Scranton that we like.

Prior to his comments before a crowd of more than 100 people, Peterson toured the new terminal building under construction.

Youre building something there for the future and I think the airlines will show up, he said.

Though the two airports are about an hour apart by car, Peterson said Lehigh Valley will complement rather that compete with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for Hooters customers.

Most people are probably more familiar with the restaurant known for its chicken wings and Hooters Girls who dress in tight-fitting orange shorts and white tank tops, acknowledged Peterson. Two of the girls fly on each flight and eight of them were on hand for the announcement Tuesday.

But the in the short time it has been flying, Hooters Air has earned its wings.

Weve been doing it for 2 ½ years and after a while, people stop laughing, Peterson said.

The airline has learned about quality service from the restaurant, added pilot Jim Hamilton.

It takes a lot of the hassle out of flying, Hamilton said.

The jet flown up from Allentown has a 148-seat capacity, but Hooters reconfigures it to hold 132. The added space is a big plus for people traveling with children and allows big people to stretch out. Plus theres real food served on the flights and the Hooters Girls play games with the travelers, Hamilton said.

He, too, addressed the question of whether people would be skeptical about the airline being family-oriented. It turned out once people saw it and saw what the customer service was like, they really got excited about it.

Hamilton follows his father who also was a pilot. He recalled his dad flew Boeing 727 jets out of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for Eastern Airlines. Hooters Air aims to duplicate the service people used to associate with airlines, he said.

Its really bringing back the traditional values of jet airline service and thats what people really like, Hamilton said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press