Hooters Air Still Flying in Myrtle Beach

Though Hooters Air is shutting down service in other markets, the low-cost airline is still flying out of Myrtle Beach.

A worker at the counter Friday said Hooters Air had flights scheduled to Scranton, Pa., New Jersey and other markets over the next few days.

Hooters is leaving other markets, however.

The charter airline is ending service at two Pennsylvania airports and apparently will depart the Tampa Bay, Fla., area for good next month.

Hooters Air is ending service to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton airport by March 26 and at the Lehigh Valley airport by April 17, Pennsylvania airport officials said.

"Hooters is ceasing service pretty much everywhere," said Barry Centini, director of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.

Airline President Mark Peterson said Thursday evening he was "not ready to comment."

Loris native Robert Brooks, the airline's founder and chairman, told The Sun News the airline has no plans to file for bankruptcy, but added: "It's always up for sale," for the right price.

Hooters Air has stopped selling flights at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport after April 17.

Airport director Noah Lagos said Peterson told him Friday the airline hadn't decided on continuing its four weekly round trips to Allentown, Pa.

But an Allentown airport executive e-mailed him that the airline was ending the flights next month and calling passengers with the news.

"It appears Hooters Air is leaving our market," Lagos said. "They're looking at what markets they serve and I think they're trying to figure out if they're going to stay in business or not."

Hooters Air has struggled since last summer with problems plaguing the entire airline industry: sky-high fuel costs and low airfares.

The carrier slashed its schedule in January, including three nonstop destinations from St. Petersburg; Columbus, Ohio; Gary, Ind.; and Rockford, Ill.

Hooters Air called the changes at Columbus and Gary "seasonal adjustments" and pledged to resume the flights this month, but it hasn't so far.

For the first time, the airline also cut back on flights from Myrtle Beach International Airport this winter, citing fuel costs and a weak off-season market.

The tiny airline attracted super-sized publicity since its inaugural flight from Myrtle Beach to Atlanta in 2003 and again upon landing in St. Petersburg.

Two Hooters girls dressed in the same skimpy outfits as at restaurants serve food and play trivia games with passengers on each flight.

Boarding passes are tucked inside replica restaurant menus, and the Hooters logo adorns the side of each plane.

Hooters Air is owned by Brooks, chairman of Atlanta-based Hooters of America, which bought trademark and franchise licensing rights from the restaurant's original Clearwater owners.

Brooks has said he could write off modest losses as a marketing expense for the nearly 400 Hooters his company owns or franchises worldwide.

Hooters Air was filling planes at the St. Petersburg airport and getting good fares - mostly from $129 to $189 one-way to Allentown and back, Lagos said.

But the industry's financial woes have landed particularly hard on the smallest carriers.

In addition to the two Pennsylvania airports and Myrtle Beach, the airline's Web site said Friday that it served the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and St. Petersburg-Clearwater airports in Florida and the Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, where the future of service wasn't immediately clear.

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