Hooters Air today launched its first nonstop flight to Las Vegas, marking the farthest western destination for a nonstop flight out of Myrtle Beach.
Las Vegas is the 12th destination for the two-year-old airline, whose custom-painted orange-and-white jets advertise the Hooters restaurant chain, known for its chicken wings and waitresses dressed in snug orange shorts.
"You can get from the beach to the desert in four hours, 19 minutes," said Dale Mattox, a pilot on the Hooters Air Boeing 757 that was scheduled to land by midafternoon Vegas time.
The Myrtle Beach-Las Vegas route departs Thursdays and returns Sundays, with fares of $149 each way.
Elijah and Jillian Metherd of Pawleys Island booked Thursday's flight on the Internet while looking for the easiest way to get from South Carolina to a wedding in California.
"We didn't even know it was the first flight," Jillian Metherd said. "It's a pretty big deal, I guess."
The flight would take Melody Adams to see her son, Staff Sgt. Robert Fitte, before he is sent to duty in Iraq. Adams said she probably will use the flight regularly because her son will be stationed at Nellis Air Force Base for three years.
"I think it's awesome," Adams said.
Selene and Harvey Graham of Longs also were on board. Graham, president and chief executive officer of CBM Broadcasting Inc. in North Myrtle Beach, said he visits Las Vegas about once a year.
"I'm tickled to death we've got a direct flight out of Myrtle Beach," Graham said. "Usually we'd have to go from here to Atlanta or Charlotte and change planes. It's travel time, plus it wears you out, having to hang around airports."
Cake, balloons and Hooters Girls in Las Vegas showgirl outfits helped boost a festive atmosphere at the gate.
A mechanical problem with the aircraft's weather radar had to be repaired before the Boeing jet, which had flown to Myrtle Beach from Allentown, Pa., could continue to Las Vegas. The flight was delayed about two hours.
"We really haven't had a delay in a long time," said Peggy Doherty, Hooters station manager. "It's kind of Murphy's Law."
Doherty said 142 passengers were booked on the aircraft, which seats 199 people.
There have been no nonstop flights west of the Mississippi River from Myrtle Beach since Vanguard Airlines ceased operations in 2002. Vanguard flew routes between Myrtle Beach and Kansas City.
"One of our goals is to add more cities west of the Mississippi," said Bob Kemp, director of Myrtle Beach International Airport. "I've talked to two or three people who have never been to Las Vegas, and they're on this flight."
Mickey McCamish, president of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, said the Las Vegas flights remove one of the barriers for the Myrtle Beach golf industry.
"Myrtle Beach is a tough place to get to, and this removes the barrier," he said.
Hooters Air founder Bob Brooks, dressed in a Hooters-orange blazer, waited on a boarding bridge to watch the plane take off.
"It's just another day at the office," Brooks said.
Hooters Air President Mark Peterson said he thinks travelers from Charleston, Florence and Wilmington, N.C., who enjoy the gaming destination of Las Vegas will be among those to take advantage of the new route.
"It's as far west as you can get nonstop out of Myrtle Beach," Peterson said. "What we like to say is, 'What happens in Vegas begins with Hooters Air.'"