Hooters Air to Offer More Nonstops

Hooters Air plans to begin nonstop service from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport to Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and St. Petersburg, Fla., beginning Oct. 28.

The Myrtle Beach-based airline also will add service from Gary, Ind.; Columbus, Ohio; and Rockford, Ill., to the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. Introductory sale fares begin at $79 each way.

Nonstop flights between Scranton, Pa., and Myrtle Beach are targeted to begin in February, timed for the spring golf season.

"We think it's another great opportunity up in the Northeast ... a regional airport outside of the New York area," said Hooters Air President Mark Peterson.

"It's one of those growing suburban areas, and we think there's a large number of people in the area that love to fly south."

Mickey McCamish, president of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, said the Scranton area is a strong golf market.

"If you consider it a little bit of an extension of the Philadelphia marketplace ... Philly is our No. 3 golf market in terms of the number of golfers coming into the Myrtle Beach area," McCamish said.

Hooters' strategy entering such markets is smart and low-risk, said airline analyst Mike Boyd, president of Colorado-based The Boyd Group.

"That kind of service is basically leisure-focused, and it's focused on generating demand, not meeting demand," Boyd said. "It's simply a magic carpet that takes somebody on a vacation.

"Suddenly Hooters is in Gary and has low fares. Well, guess what? Now somebody that was going to buy a refrigerator changes his mind."

Boyd added that Hooters doesn't spend a lot of money moving into new markets.

"It's not like they ... invest a billion dollars," Boyd said. "If it doesn't work, they can pull out. They have brilliantly cross-marketed their restaurants with an airline. It's a billboard, it's an advertising tool. It's a heck of a strategy."

Scranton is the 16th destination for two-year-old Hooters Air, which launched its first flights between Myrtle Beach and Atlanta in March 2003. Since then, the airline has grown to a fleet of seven Boeing jets and debuted the first nonstop international flights from Myrtle Beach to Nassau, Bahamas.

The airline has focused on tourist markets, including Las Vegas in June, where a Hooters Hotel and Casino is scheduled to open in 2006. Hooters officials have said they would like to establish service to London.

"We're working on it. That's one of those things we will get around to," Peterson said.

Hooters Air was founded by Loris native Bob Brooks, who divides his time between Myrtle Beach and Atlanta as chairman of the Hooters restaurant chain and founder of Atlanta-based Naturally Fresh Foods.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press