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Single Day Passenger Record Expected, Sun Country Takes Flight at Louisville Airport

May 4, 2023

Click here to view image gallery of welcome festivities for Derby visitors and the inaugural flight for Sun Country Airlines.

Kentucky Derby visitors receive red rose welcome with special in-terminal hospitality experiences

The Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (SDF) is welcoming visitors from around the globe this week for the 149th Kentucky Derby while also celebrating new nonstop service on Sun Country Airlines. As SDF prepares to set an all-time record for its single busiest day in airport history, Bourbon Country connects with Sun Country with the new flight to Minneapolis (MSP) that begins on Thursday, May 4.

“Derby is always special for our community and the busiest time for SDF as we provide a best-in-class welcome to race fans,” said Dan Mann, Executive Director of the Louisville Regional Airport Authority. “This year we’re not only celebrating what will be a new, single day passenger record on Sunday, May 7, but we’re also marking the addition of Sun Country to SDF. Sun Country will give area travelers another option to reach the Twin Cities and more low-cost opportunities to the west.”

Sun Country Arrives in Louisville

Ultra-low-cost carrier Sun Country will operate twice-weekly service between Minneapolis (MSP) and Louisville on Mondays and Fridays using a Boeing 737 with 186 seats. This new flight not only allows travelers to enjoy Minneapolis’ area parks and cultural experiences, but also offers even more low-fare connections through Sun Country’s extensive network in both North and Central Americas.

“We’re eager to welcome Louisville to the Sun Country network and launch our first flights to the region,” says Grant Whitney, Chief Revenue Officer at Sun Country Airlines. “Louisville may be best known for things like bourbon and horses, but it also has a truly unique array of attractions, restaurants, hotels and other destinations. We hope Sun Country customers enjoy everything the area has to offer.”

“Just as we’re greeting visitors from around the world, I’d like to extend a special welcome to Sun Country Airlines,” added Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg. “With this addition of another new airline at Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport, the community continues to position itself for future growth and opportunities.”

New Record Expected as Passengers Welcomed with Derby Experience

On Wednesday, May 3 through Friday, May 5, a record-setting number of visitors are expected to arrive in at SDF and will be met with a red rose welcome as the airport celebrates this year’s Kentucky Derby, which will likely be the airport’s best Derby ever. During this three-day period, 34,300 arriving seats are scheduled, which is an increase of 22% compared to 2019, the airport’s best year to date.

Scheduled capacity is up 15% compared to 2019 as well. This includes additional flights from American Airlines to Austin, Houston, New York-JFK, Phoenix, Raleigh-Durham and Saint Louis. Due to the high demand at SDF, American is using their premium configured Airbus A321 for Louisville service this week. This ultra-luxurious aircraft features lie-flat seats and their Flagship First Class product, an amenity traditionally reserved for flights between New York City or Boston to the West Coast. This marks the first time in history that any airline has flown an aircraft with a premium lie-flat first-class cabin to Louisville.

Delta Air Lines also added service to Los Angeles while United Airlines included nonstop service to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Spirit Airlines added five markets specifically for Derby as well – Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Newark.

To greet the thousands of arriving travelers, the rotunda area where Concourses A and B meet is a hub of activity. Live music is played by nearly 80 local musicians from the Louisville Federation of Musicians (Local 11-637) while ‘Derby Greeters’ in their festive attire, complete with a fascinator or hat, will distribute 35,000 Woodford Reserve Bourbon Balls. The Jerry E. Abramson Terminal is also decorated with 3,000 fresh cut red roses from the gates to baggage claim. Plus, there are various selfie stops throughout, featuring a life-sized horse with a Garland of Roses in the winner’s circle, starting gates, a finish line post and Churchill Downs-inspired settings.

This year’s ‘Departure Sunday’ or the Sunday immediately following Derby Saturday, is expected to be the single, busiest day in the airport’s history. On Sunday, May 7, nearly 18,000 departing seats are scheduled, an increase of 23% or more than 3,330 seats than the airport saw in 2019. There will be 128 scheduled departing passenger flights, which is 60% more compared to a normal Sunday in May.

“We expect this year’s ‘Departure Sunday’ to go down in the record books with almost double of what we see on an average Sunday in May,” added Mann. “Thanks to the SDF team’s months of planning and coordination with our partners such as the airlines, TSA, restaurants, retail shops and the FAA’s air traffic control tower, I’m confident we’ll have another successful year.”

Click here for media gallery featuring welcome festivities for Derby 2023 and the inaugural flight for Sun Country Airlines at Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport.