Ultraflex: An airplane space that’s a grocery store, fitness studio and restaurant

Hamburg, Germany CNN  — 

Ever wanted to do a spot of yoga on board your airplane, but not had the space for that perfectly arched downward dog?

What about a private spot to wine and dine a future business partner, away from nosy fellow passengers?

Ross Burns, lead industrial designer for AIM Altitude, a British aviation company, began thinking about these ideas as he noticed the growing number of super-long-haul flights.

No one can sit in one spot for that long, he thought. And just getting up and walking down the aisle doesn’t always cut it.

What if there was another place passengers could go to relax, work and stretch?

“Ultraflex is a project that we’ve been working on for about 10 months,” Burns tells CNN Travel at the 2019 Airplane Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg, Germany.

“At some point you’re going to want to get up stretch your legs, put life back into your legs – but it’s really a destination, a new destination to go to – rather than sitting in your seat for anything from 12-20 hours.”

Visionary concept

The deli galley with "grab and go" style catering.

Ultraflex is the name AIM Altitude has given to its vision – an inflight hub that doubles up as a fitness studio, bar, grocery store, meeting space and restaurant.

The team brought a full-scale mock-up to AIX, ready to wow airlines and passengers alike.

As soon as you step into the space, you’re aware it’s both familiar and alien. Burns starts with demonstrating the mid-level units that passengers can lean against, providing a comfortable change of scene and opportunity to chat with fellow travelers.

“The idea is to get up on your feet, basically, and mingle,” he says. The curved stands are dotted around the center of the space.

It could be a spot to meet and mingle with your fellow passengers.

There’s also a deli galley laid out like a grocery store, with a “grab and go” station. The idea is it’s familiar, and more inviting, Burns says, than the average on-board food spot.

The actual bar, he adds, could open and close at different times on a long-haul flight, breaking up the journey and adding interest.

If mingling with your fellow passengers isn’t appealing, maybe the private booths might be more your scene.

Multi-purpose space

Ultraflex could provide a space for some stretching.

Burns shows CNN Travel how they work – there are seats that fold up and down, allowing the booths to work as a dining space, but also function as a place for kids to play in peace, or a passenger to pray, meditate or stretch.

“It’s one of those things that people do in their seats and they do in the aisles, but it’s not very private, but now you’ve got space that you could do something like that.”

The same booths could also be used for private dining.

There’s also a couch space and several desks – and at the AIX mock-up, AIM Altitude has installed muscular rollers and low-resistance paddles under the desks.

“You could be just working on your laptop, but yet just doing something – circulation, blood flow – all those things are very positive,” says Burns.

Perhaps you’d pre-book these spots, or just turn up on the day, inspired to test out your Yogi tree pose, 3,000 feet in the air.

There are also desks, providing an alternative space to work.

“That’s the kind of conversations that we’re having with the airlines,” says Burns. “These take up a reasonable amount of real estate, probably the same as a business class seat. So there’s pros and cons – but with the idea of wellbeing, fitness, a point of difference within each airline… It’s one of those calls that they would make, whether it would be worth it or not.”

Passengers would likely be keen on the change of scene – although not all travelers would be keen on the social aspect.

Whether airlines think the space compromise is worth it remains to be seen.

New ideas

The aviation industry is taking note of the concept.

The concept was shortlisted for one of this year’s Crystal Cabin Awards, and has attracted a lot of interest at AIX.

“It’s just giving [airlines] other ideas and other options other than the seat,” says Burns. “I think the ultra-long-haul flight really allows you to do that as well because of the duration in the air and you need that break.”