Leave It to Cleavage

By Sean Daly
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Grandma Hooter, as Joyce Wilkie likes to call herself, is flirting again. The 56-year-old flight attendant works the aisle on a mid-June Hooters Air jaunt from Baltimore to Myrtle Beach, S.C., like a drink-pouring, nearest-exit-pointing Mae West.

Dressed in a conventional navy blue flight skirt and flashing a wicked grin, Wilkie -- one of three attendants on board with Federal Aviation Administration training -- doesn't have to be so chummy. That's the job of the two scantily clad blond women with smiles as bright as their orange hot pants at the front of the plane.

But we'll get to those giggly, wiggly Hooters Girls in a moment. It seems that Grandma Hooter is about to make her move.

"I want you to have this," Wilkie whispers in my ear. She drops a Hootersfied version of those classic toy pilot wings in my lap. It's a metal pin featuring a half-naked blond woman straddling a gaudily decorated orange-and-white plane.

"Cute, isn't it?" she says with a wink and a squeeze of my arm.

Gulp. This sure isn't like flying Delta.

With the exception of Austin Powers's shag-carpeted jet, there has never been a flying experience quite as, uh, sassy as a trip on Hooters Air. The company -- which currently has three 737s flying round trip to Myrtle Beach from Newark, Atlanta and Baltimore -- commenced business out of BWI on June 6. The airline launched its inaugural flight from Atlanta in March. It celebrates Hooters' 20th anniversary of having women dressed like "Battle of the Network Stars" cater to ogling patrons.

There were only 10 people scattered among 112 seats on my Friday afternoon flight, but Hooters higher-ups are hoping the combination of cheap seats ($99 one way from Baltimore) and curvy women will eventually make Hooters Air a sold-out hit.

The Hooters Girls (a pair will be on every flight) will play a big part in the airline's struggle for success. Most of the super-friendly females will rotate between working the skies and waiting tables at Hooters in Myrtle Beach. With no FAA training, their job is to mingle, sell some T-shirts and hold a mid-flight trivia contest. Oh, and to give people something to gawk at besides a lousy in-flight magazine.

Today, Bridget Zill, 33, and Amanda Walls, 25, are donning those tiny orange shorts and tight, low-cut white tank tops emblazoned with the slogan "Delightfully tacky yet unrefined." Needless to say, their outfits make those denim-wearing folks at Southwest Airlines look positively stuffy.

With a giggle, Walls greets the passengers: "Hi, I'm Amanda and this is Bridget. We'll be your Hooters Girls for the afternoon!"

Zill turns out to be the chattier of the two. As the plane speeds up for takeoff -- not exactly my favorite part of flying -- the loquacious Hooters Girl talks about her date tonight ("I probably won't even kiss him"), her work schedule ("I woke up at 6 this morning and I almost cried") and her looks ("I know I'm an attractive woman, but I'm not that attractive. What do you think?"). Thanks to Zill, I have no time to contemplate my mortality. Nice work.

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