About Us

Flyhidrate is an Award Winning highly focused functional beverage developed in conjunction with the University of Otago.  We term it ‘the World’s most advanced inflight wellbeing Drink System’ proudly developed and produced in the heart of New Zealand spectacular deep alpine Southern Lakes District! 

So how did the idea start?

In February 2009 an elderly passenger flying from London to Auckland suffered a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) scare. Despite using compression socks and taking aspirin, she had all the blood clot symptoms and was rushed to hospital. This started Flyhidrate's Founders, Chris Watkins and Helen Ninkie, thinking about the whole inflight wellbeing issue - as frequent flyers ourselves we had witnessed airlines coping with severely dehydrated passengers, and it appeared there were really no protocols to effectively deal with this issue.

Internet research confirmed there was nothing in the market at that time, specifically designed for inflight wellbeing, despite the wealth of data on the physiological stresses: principally, dehydration from super dry air and lower cabin pressure, poor circulation from cramped seating and prolonged immobility and oxidative stress.  We were surprised to learn that at cruising altitude of 39,000 feet passengers and crew receive 64 times more radiation than at ground level which results in free radical damage and oxidative stress.

Working with leading nutritionists, we theorised possible formulations. In the process, we conceptualized a 3-drink delivery system, for consumption early, mid and late flight.

Research and Development

As leaders in the field of R&D we approached both Massey University and the University of Otago and asked them to present proposals. We opted for the University of Otago due to the research team they proposed for the project - 3 key members being Dr. Nancy Rehrer (former NASA consultant for returning space shuttle pilots and co-author of a seminal paper on inflight dehydration), Dr. Jim Cotter (dietary consultant and adviser to what is now High Performance Sports NZ on dietary design for athletes for Athens, Beijing and London Olympics) and Patrick Silcock (former head of the University of Otago Food Science Department, currently Director of PJ Innovation Limited).  An 18-month research program was put in place and we promptly had co-funding pledged by the then Ministry of Science and Innovation, with support and backing from the University of Otago.

The research for Flyhidrate was broken down into 4 stages:

Stage 1 Locating Ingredients

Review and short-list of potential ingredients based on our initial ideas, and PubMed research data from in-vivo and in-vitro studies.

Ingredients were bypassed unless: 

  1. They were backed by scientifically identified results
  2. They had an identifiable acute effect i.e. within the time frame of a long-haul flight 
  3. They could be used in quantities that could be incorporated within 1 litre of fluid
  4. They had limited adverse effects in unknown and unscreened populations

The selection was further refined by interaction with other ingredients, solubility, commercial availability, colour/flavour and taste etc.

Stage 2 Formulating

This phase focused on developing the final 3-drink formulations and associated flavour balancing/masking/blending procedure. Creating pleasantly flavoured beverages was a challenge when so many functional ingredients were being included; many of the most useful compounds we identified were bitter and astringent. At all times the ingredient bias was towards the use of naturals rather than synthetics. 

One interesting byproduct was the flavour flattening at cruising altitude (39,000 feet) where saltiness and acidity perceptions were significantly altered (issues now recognised by airline caterers and chefs). 

Stage 3 Clinical trials

The beverages underwent a double-blind crossover test in a flight-simulated environment (via altitude chambers at the University of Otago, less the radiation exposure of 39,000 feet).

Results confirmed the superior hydration provided by final formulations over consumption of plain water. We also relied on the established research for the anticoagulants as far as their antiplatelet aggregating performance and other mechanisms exhibited for their assisting circulation.

Stage 4 Field Trials

Auckland Airport authorities gave us permission to set up at departure gates, for a series of 3 field trials, whereby passengers on longhaul flights were provided with a 9-page suitability questionnaire and a 7-page sensory evaluation questionnaire. This was principally focused on flavour acceptability, smell, mouth feel, ease of consumption, hydration perception, price perception, concept acceptability. Each flight was accompanied by a member of the University of Otago research team who collected the questionnaires for subsequent analysis.

After 2 years of research and refinement, we had developed a multi-functional beverage system comprising:

  • A hypotonic multi-electrolyte hydration base to counter the loss of 1 extra litre of fluid every 5 hours in flight (an amount quantified by Dr. Nancy Rehrer and team).
  • A proprietary blend of mild anticoagulants to combat poor circulation, oedema and thrombotic events. This includes the only product to receive an EFSA approved statement quoting ‘promotes healthy circulation'. 
  • A blend of super antioxidants and supporting vitamins and minerals to help counter free radical damage and oxidative stress.

Our holistic solution, and one of the reasons we opted for a 3-drink system, was to include an anxiolytic to de-stress passengers in the first drink and energisers in the last drink to assist with disembarkation.

Commercialisation Phase

After the final commercial tests we initially rolled Flyhidrate out through the RELAY and Newslink airport stores. Subsequently Flyhidrate is now being distributed online to broaden availability to passengers as part of their flight planning. 

After posting some interesting research on those most at risk from Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) on our website we soon had the High-Performance Managers and Doctors of a number of NZ national rugby teams and other elite athletes and nationals teams (Women’s Water Polo, Air Rifle Teams, Triathletes etc.) approaching us to purchase Flyhidrate to use when touring overseas. Of interest to note - Athletes potentially suffer from DVT more than the average population due to a lower heart rate at rest which can allow for pooling of blood in their extremities, such as their calf muscles so we were excited about its uptake in this area.

To create the most user friendly end product we spent an initial 6 months, working with the University of Otago, in developing a concentrate and powdered formats of the beverages to replace our initial Ready To Drink (RTD) that were posing a challenge for airport security restrictions.  This enables passengers to tailor their flight requirements dependent on the number of flights, distance and duration, enabling multiflight packs and sales outside of the immediate airport environment including pharmacies, travel agents and Corporates.  As well as having the advantages of lower cost packaging and longer shelf life.

Where are we now?

Flyhidrate has achieved national and international awards - at the SIAL and Inflight Catering Food Exhibition in Abu Dhabi and from the NZ Juice & Beverage Association (NZJBA) Awards for 'Best Industry Initiative'.  It has also since featured in many press articles.  Presently we are focusing on international expansion to assist both private and corporate flyers globally.

The overall project and working with the University of Otago was a fascinating insight into ethical approvals and the challenges of getting real functionality into a good tasting commercial beverage. It was a true collaboration between University research (being the science), and public inflight wellbeing on the other hand.

All in all, we could have achieved our goal anywhere in the world but found in New Zealand everything we required. From the specialist insight and the combined talents of all involved, our goal was achieved in that we were able to provide a Drink System that truly looks after one’s body whilst at high altitude flight.