The story of Bristol Airport’s former transatlantic connection

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Located in North Somerset, Bristol Airport (BRS) is a key air hub for the South West of England. The facility is also convenient for South Wales passengers, given the relatively small size of Cardiff Airport (CWL). Its traffic today is almost entirely European in nature, but previously it also served transatlantic flights.


The start of something big

The flights in question were operated by former US airline Continental Airlines, serving its hub at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) non-stop. According to the Bristol Airport website, the launch of these services marked the first scheduled non-stop transatlantic flights from the South West of England.

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Travel Mole reports that the flights began May 20, 2005 and used 172-seat Boeing 757-200s. These narrowbodies featured a two-class configuration and made the journey from Bristol to Newark in seven hours and 50 minutes.

Meanwhile, Travel News Asia notes that flights from Newark to Bristol were a bit shorter, with an expected duration of just seven hours. Simple Flying recently took a closer look at why this difference exists on such routes, and you can read our article about it here. Newark-Bristol flights carried the number CO76, while those traveling west were designated flight CO77.

Continental Airlines served Bristol for over half a decade. Photo: Bristol Airport

Good things must come to an end

The flights quickly became popular with airport passengers, who could now travel to the United States without having to travel to London or via a larger European hub such as Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. This Is Bristol notes that both business and leisure passengers used the flights, with Continental Airlines ultimately carrying over 400,000 passengers on the route while active.

However, in April 2010, just under five years after the route opened, Continental Airlines announced that in November of that year it would cease operations between Bristol and Newark. The recession at the time was cited as a factor, along with an increase in a UK-based aviation tax known as Air Passenger Duty (APD).

This amount was due to increase from £45 to £60 in economy class and from £90 to £120 in business class in November, meaning fares would increase by an average of 15-20%. Business Traveler adds that while the flights were busy, they did not have enough passengers on board paying the highest economy and commercial fares. This would have made it difficult to successfully complete the route.

Continental operated its last flight on the route on November 7, 2010. Photo: Getty Images

A potential return

It has now been almost 12 years since Newark Liberty International was listed on departure boards at Bristol Airport. Continental has since ceased to exist as a brand, having been merged with fellow US giant United Airlines in March 2012. However, in recent years rumors of a return to the US from Bristol have arisen.

Indeed, Business Live reported in May 2021 that, according to the CEO of Bristol Airport, the facility was considering more long-haul operations in the future. New York would have been on its “target list” for the next three to five years, alongside Dubai and Istanbul. It should be noted that Bristol Airport does not plan to expand to make this a reality, but rather to make the best use of its existing runway.

Do you remember Continental Airlines’ Bristol-Newark flights? Maybe you even traveled on it yourself back in the day? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Sources: Bristol Airport, Business Live, Business Traveller, This Is Bristol, Travel Mole, Travel News Asia

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