OTR Interviews

Up, Up and Away!

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, August 27, 2003. Watch On the Record weeknights at 10 p.m. ET.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Easy to buy, fun to fly. Hooters Airlines. Yes, the new wings are run by the restaurant chain best known for their hot wings.

Joining us now from Atlanta is Hooters V.P. of Marketing Mike McNeil.

Welcome, Mike.

MIKE MCNEIL, HOOTERS MARKETING VICE PRESIDENT: Hi, Greta. It's good to be with you this evening.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Mike. Hooters Airlines. First, give me an idea. How many planes you've got?

MCNEIL: Well, we currently are operating three aircraft, so not a particularly large fleet, but we're proud of it.

VAN SUSTEREN: They look like large planes. How big are they?

MCNEIL: They're Boeing 737s.

VAN SUSTEREN: Everyone's, obviously, intrigued by the fact it's Hooters. Why does Hooters have an airline?

MCNEIL: Well, you know, there's a couple reasons.

I mean, number one, we were presented with a business opportunity to fly in and out of the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, area that we thought made some sense.

Also, we had acquired Pace Airlines late last year, which is a charter air service company, and we feel like that the Hooters brand is going to do well within that charter arena as well, and it has to date.

The other reason, quite frankly, is it's good for our brand and certainly has gotten a lot of publicity and notoriety for the restaurant chain. We've been in business for 20 years and are growing fast, but the airline is, I think, really going to help us take off.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. When you talk about your brand, I mean, of course, you know, part of your brand is the hot wings that are served at Hooters, but there's a little bit more to it. It's the way the waitresses dress and the type of waitresses who are hired.

Should someone flying on Hooters Airline expect that part of the brand to be present on the airline?

MCNEIL: Well, absolutely. And I think, quite frankly, people would be disappointed if we didn't carry a little bit of the restaurant concept on board the aircraft themselves.

Of course, the planes are flown by competent pilots from Pace Airlines and FAA-certified flight attendants, but there's also two Hooters girls, who are restaurant employees, who get to come out of the restaurants and take to the friendly skies.

They're on board to provide a variety of different hostess functions. They're handing out Hooters restaurant gift cards, selling merchandise on the aircraft, and the passengers on the plane seem to like that a lot.

VAN SUSTEREN: And what has been your passenger load. Are filling these planes?

MCNEIL: We really are, and, quite frankly, it's coming a little bit faster than we expected to.

We're currently serving three cities into Myrtle Beach. We're flying out of Atlanta, Newark, New Jersey, and Baltimore Washington International -- BWI -- Airport.

Particularly out of the Northeast, the Newark routes and the BWI routes are really filling up quickly, and we think we may be on to something, giving non-stop jet service on a wide-bodied jet in and out of some northeastern markets into the Myrtle Beach area.

There's over 120 golf courses there, miles and miles of beautiful sandy beaches, and it's a great resort, and we're helping people get there.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. You're, obviously, flying in and out of markets that are not sort of the expensive ones. You're flying into Baltimore, not Washington National, Newark and not La Guardia or Kennedy, and Myrtle Beach is the end point on this. Are you making money?

MCNEIL: You know, this thing is really taking off a lot better than we thought it would. And, quite frankly, we would have been happy just with some of the publicity and exposure that we're getting, but I think it's going to turn in to be a very viable business opportunity for us.

VAN SUSTEREN: What are the demographics of the passengers? Are there more men flying it than women? Age difference?

MCNEIL: You know, on the restaurant side, what we have is about 72- percent male, 28-percent female, and so when we first took off, we were sort of looking at the demographics.

What we found is that it's a little bit closer to 50-50, and we're getting great comments from female passengers, and so we certainly think that our appeal is a little broader with the airline than perhaps it even is with the restaurant chain.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Typically, you get on an airline these days, and, if you get food, it's pretty bad. Do you serve Hooters food on these airlines? I mean is it restaurant-quality food?

MCNEIL: We do serve food on the air, and we're getting some great comments from the passengers who are just tickled to death on some of these shorter flights, in particular, to get anything at all to eat. It's something that, as many people know, doesn't really exist in the airline industry.

Now the one thing we're not serving at this point are our famous Hooters chicken wings. We just haven't been able to figure out how to ventilate the fryers at 30,000 feet, so we're not serving the freshly-prepared wings, but we do have some other great items.

VAN SUSTEREN: I think the passengers appreciate not having the hot fryer on a flight like that. That may be a little bit too much for all of us.

Mike, thank you very much. We'll continue to watch Hooters Airlines. Thank you, sir.

MCNEIL: Thank you, Greta.

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