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More Flights, Bigger Aircraft for Derby 150 at Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport

March 15, 2024

Airlines increase capacity to accommodate high demand for Kentucky Derby’s 150th anniversary

With 50 days and counting, the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (SDF) is gearing up for the fastest two minutes in sports with increased capacity on more flights, larger aircraft and additional nonstop service for the 150th anniversary of the Kentucky Derby. More than 34,000 arriving seats are scheduled for Wednesday, May 1 through Friday, May 3 with a combined 16 nonstop routes added specifically for Derby.

“Derby is always SDF’s busiest time of year, and this year is no exception,” said Dan Mann, Executive Director of the Louisville Regional Airport Authority. “Our team has been in constant communications with the airlines about the significant increases we can expect for the 150th anniversary and plans are in place for what we believe could be a record year for SDF.”

The busiest day for arriving Derby-goers will be Thursday, May 2 when more than 15,300 seats are scheduled across 116 passenger flights throughout the day. More than 10,300 seats are scheduled on Friday, May 3 on 86 flights and Wednesday, May 1 will see 74 flights with more than 8,500 scheduled seats.

American Airlines will have the most passengers into SDF with nearly 10,000 arriving seats during this time, which is 22% more than a normal day in May. They will also offer flights to six markets they do not currently serve at SDF: Austin (AUS), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), New York City (JFK), Phoenix (PHX) and Raleigh-Durham (RDU). Spirit Airlines increased capacity by 59% and added nonstop service from Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), Miami (MIA), Newark (EWR) and Tampa (TPA).

Delta, Southwest and United have also all made adjustments, giving travelers more options to Louisville. Delta Air Lines’ larger presence is a 23% increase – with more than 7,200 seats and special flights from Los Angeles (LAX), New York City (JFK) and Salt Lake City (SLC). With a 37% increase in available seats, United Airlines will also offer service from Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO). Southwest will have nearly 7,500 seats scheduled, equaling an increase of 12% to their capacity. They will also offer special nonstop service to Austin (AUS).

“Watching the inbound flights at SDF on Wednesday through Friday is a pretty special treat,” said Anthony Gilmer, Vice President of Air Service Development and Strategic Marketing for the Airport Authority. “The airlines all send their largest domestic aircraft here for Derby weekend. The bigger jets we used to only see for Derby are now all in our typical flight schedules – we just see many more of them this time of year! That weekend Louisville, KY is THE place to be. We are thankful our airline partners continue to offer even more options for travelers from around the world to reach our city and have that authentic Derby experience.”

On Sunday, May 5, affectionally known as ‘Departure Sunday’ when most Derby-goers leave Louisville, the airport will once again celebrate its single busiest day of the year. Nearly 17,000 departing seats are scheduled on board 120-plus flights by the airlines to accommodate the large crowd expected this year. Monday, May 6 will also see an uptick in departing seats with more than 10,000 currently scheduled.

“This year’s Derby schedules from the airlines are very robust thanks to even more flights to destinations we currently serve as well as those routes added for this event only,” added Mann. “The numbers for Derby 150 look very positive at SDF, setting the stage for an extremely busy summer.”