Often when describing airline experiences, I refer to both “hard” and “soft” products. I realize that I often use terms like these without stepping back and defining them, so in this post I wanted to take the opportunity to do that.
Airline hard product vs. soft product
When I describe the hard and soft product of premium cabin airline experiences, what am I referring to? As a general rule of thumb, here’s how I define this:
- A first & business class hard product is anything physically attached or bolted to the plane, which doesn’t differ from flight to flight; this could include the seat, the onboard shower, the size of the entertainment screen, etc.
- A first & business class soft product is anything that can vary from flight to flight; this could include food, drinks, service, amenity kits, bedding, etc.
In other words, the distinction comes down to whether a particular feature could vary from flight to flight or not.
There’s a gray area in defining these
While I think the definition of hard and soft product is largely agreed upon, there’s still a bit of a gray area with defining aspects of the passenger experience.
For example, I’d consider a seat back entertainment screen as such to be part of the hard product. However, the software (the selection of entertainment, the system’s responsiveness, etc.), is arguably part of the soft product, as it can change over time.
Similarly, is Wi-Fi part of the soft product or hard product? The fact that the system is installed as such would be hard product (the antenna is bolted to the plane), while the system’s performance (which can vary from flight to flight based on route) is arguably part of the soft product.
When discussing airline experiences, we often use terms like hard product and soft product. Hard product refers to the fixed elements of a flight, while soft product refers to the variable elements of a flight. There are definitely some areas where reasonable people can disagree on the definition, like if we’re talking about the entertainment selection, the quality of the Wi-Fi, etc.
How do you define airline soft & hard products?