t looks like the top airline story
this week is Southwest's decision to come to Philadelphia in May.
It was about time for Southwest to make a big move. After a steady
growth spurt in the 1990s, it hadn't added a city in two years, and
JetBlue was beginning to replace it as the industry's
And the choice of Philadelphia is noteworthy. The last time
Southwest went into a US Airways hub (BWI), it took over. Also,
readers of tea leaves note that Southwest may be following a
slightly different strategy here than elsewhere in the East, where
it has favored outlying airports such as Islip, N.Y., and
So this will be an interesting battle to watch.
But there's another airline story developing in the background
that may have as much or more to teach us. We refer -- seriously --
to Hooters Air, the public charter operation in Myrtle Beach, S.C.,
that carries the brand of the "delightfully tacky" restaurant
chain. Hooters Air is adding Fort Myers, Fla., and Nassau, Bahamas,
Big deal? Maybe not, but when you get past all the bad jokes and
snickering, there's a curious business proposition here: the idea
that inflight service can be "branded" by a ground-based entity
that is not even flying the plane.
The Hooters Air public charters, operated by Pace Airlines, an
independent charter carrier, are just like any other public charter
except for the branding strategy and the presence of "Hooters
Girls" on board.
Nobody else is doing this.
In the previous century, Donald Trump and MGM Grand tried to
trade on their names to launch airline ventures, ultimately without
success. Since then, no land-based brand names have taken to the
air in the U.S. The closest parallel may be Virgin Atlantic, an
airline that was founded on the idea of leveraging the power of the
At a time when airline service is seen as a commodity and
industry people refer to the major network carriers as the "Sick
Six," do the brands of the major U.S. network airlines have
anything left to leverage? Would you rent a car or stay in a hotel
that carries the brand of one of the legacy U.S airlines?
Of course, there are lots of things airlines can do to get
people off their couches, as Southwest and US Airways are about to
demonstrate. But maybe one of the things that the airlines could
use, in addition to common sense, cost-cutting and all the rest, is
a revolution in branding.
• • •
The Cuba trip
e had a reporter in Cuba the
other week. As she reports on Page 1 in the Nov. 3 issue, her trip
was legal, legitimate, educational and fun.
No matter, we know our letters to the editor department will
soon be deluged with letters and e-mail messages accusing us of
undermining U.S. foreign policy and propping up a detested
We respectfully disagree. She's glad she went, and so are we.
And we would do it again in a heartbeat.