LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky Derby Week is the Super Bowl for Louisville's Muhammad Ali International Airport.

Nearly 28,000 arrivals are landing between Wednesday and Oaks Day, according to Natalie Chaudoin, the airport's director of public relations. She expects around 12,000 of those to arrive Thursday, which is almost twice the average number for a Thursday.

"We're about 98% of where we were in 2019, which was our best year ever," Chaudoin said. "So considering the pandemic — the recovery from that — that's a really good sign."

As passengers stepped off the plane, they were welcomed by a live band playing in front of a rose-covered stage. Derby greeters sweetened the moment by handing out bourbon balls.

In all, they will give away 30,000 Woodford Reserve bourbon balls before the week is done.

"We're really proud to roll out that red carpet welcome," Chaodoin said. "Let them know that they're here in Louisville, it's Derby Time, and they're gonna have a great time while they're here."

Airport officials expect to handle between 600-700 private jets in all this weekend, with around half sitting on the runway by race time.

"Immediately after Derby, there's typically a good push of corporate and private jets that head out," Chaudoin said.

Most of the 28,000 arrivals are leaving Sunday. So if you're flying out that day, get to the airport two hours early so you can catch your flight.

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