What’s The Difference Between Airline Hard And Soft Products?

Filed Under: Advice

Often I use airline product terminology without defining it properly. While I know many of you are probably familiar with these terms, sometimes it’s worth stepping back and defining them, for those of you not as familiar.

Reader Todd asked the following question on a post I wrote yesterday, entitled “My Most Major Minor First Class Annoyance:”

Hey Ben… a question (maybe for an article, or maybe it’s too simple to answer): What’s the difference between “hard” and “soft” products. What do you mean by that? I see this referred to all the time, but I’m not really sure what you mean. Thanks!

That’s a great question. I often refer to “hard” and “soft” aspects of premium cabin products, so what are they? As I sit down to try and define them, I realize it might not be quite as straightforward as I had hoped.

As a general rule of thumb:

  • A first/business class hard product is anything physically attached to the plane, which doesn’t differ from flight to flight. For example, the seat, onboard amenities (shower, bar, etc.), size of the entertainment screen, etc.
  • A first/business class soft product is anything which can differ from flight to flight. For example, food, drinks, service, amenity kits, etc.

Emirates’ A380 onboard shower is definitely “hard” product

But there are certainly some grey areas.

For example, is the quality of the entertainment selection considered hard or soft product? For many airlines, the entertainment selection changes every month. I’m inclined to call it hard product, though an argument could certainly be made that it’s soft product.

Is entertainment selection hard product or soft product?

What about bedding? Cathay Pacific has had the same bedding for years, so it’s an aspect of the product which doesn’t differ from flight to flight on a given route. I tend to think of it as soft product, since it’s not available on select short-haul flights, for example. But others could reasonably argue it’s hard product.

Is bedding selection hard product or soft product?

Bottom line

Hopefully that answers the basic question Todd had. There’s certainly a grey area, where some things could be considered soft or hard product. Or who knows, perhaps I’m defining the terms wrong altogether, and it is clearer than I’m making it sound. But when I use soft & hard product, the above is what I’m referring to.

How do you define airline soft & hard products? Does it differ from my definition?

  1. In your opinion I would to hear your responses to these questions. Who has the best hard first class product? Who has the best hard business class product? Who has the best soft first class product? Who has the best soft business class product? Out of all the airlines you have ever flown on!! I would to hear your response to my questions and why you had select each airline for the question! Thanks Lucky!!

  2. Well, hard product is really objective. For example, even though the service quality of China Eastern is quite contrevisal, they do have the best bed product in their new 777-300ER first class. (The only other airline has such product is Singapore A380)
    Soft product is really subjective, for example, food and dinning are highly depend on travler’s taste. However, dinning can be comparable.
    The hardest part is evaluate quality of service of fly attendants. For example, in some Asian and Latin American countries,fly attendants must be attractive and good-looking. Many travelers take this into serious consideration. Yet in Europe and America, travlers like strong and senior fly attendants, as they believe seniority of fly attendants can improve the in-flight safety.
    Culture makes difference too. In many areas of the world, “customer is the god” is rooted in the culture. However, in America, most executives believed “employee is the god” due to the strength of the Union.
    For me personally, I don’t ask much, and do not have much interaction with fly attendants. As long fly attendant respond me in 10 minutes after I pressed the button, I am good.

  3. @ Billy – I know you asked Lucky, but I´ll make a guess of his answers:
    . Best first class hard products: Etihad apartments. Because it´s unique, beautiful and bigger than any other first class product.
    . Best first class soft products: Singapore Airlines. They are sincere, attentive, delicate and efficient.
    . Best business class hard product: it would have to feature a reverse herringbone seat (Cathay, American, Qatar…). American has good onboard wifi, but Qatar has onboard bar (with Krug). He would call it a toughie and choose AA if he wanted to work on QR if he wanted to get drunk.
    . Best business class soft product: another toughie, but I think he would go again with Singapore for the same reasons above.
    @ Lucky: Am I right? 🙂

  4. @ mkdl – thanks, that was very helpful!!
    @ Carlos – Great reponses to my questions this is really helping me out!
    @ Lucky – Ben, I know you are a very busy man especially in Germany right now!! I would love to hear from my favorite and go to Travel blogger’s opinion!! Thanks Lucky!!

  5. My issue is that they’re not products at all. Very little of it is, and it’s not only wrong but also dangerous to consider them products. A product is something that is tangible and that you get to keep after making a purchase. You don’t get to keep the seats on the plane, the in flight entertainment, the showers, or anything like that. Those are services, not products. The airline provides a service to you in the form of transportation and the way in which that transportation is conducted, such as seats, showers, etc. It was a product when the airline purchased those things, but they’re not products for the traveler. The only things that could be considered products are the food, amenity kits, and other things that are kept by the passenger, mostly the so-called “soft” products.

    I say that it’s dangerous to think of these things as products because there are different laws governing products and services. How that would play out in the real world would depend on the specific circumstances, but it can make a huge difference. Products are often held to a higher standard because they’re supposedly more consistent. Services are considered to be more variable and thus of lower quality control standards. When a traveler starts thinking of a service as a product, she will expect a higher level of quality that may be impossible. Again, what that means in the real world depends on particular situations. But it’s not only stupid but dangerous to call these things products.

  6. @bill @carlos SQ F soft product is pretty good but I don’t think it is the best especially when you start to factor in the ground experience. Also comparisons get hard with airlines as there are so many variables. If I was going to fly FRA-SIN for example in F I would want LH exFRA and SQ exSIN.

  7. @AdamH
    “If I was going to fly FRA-SIN for example in F I would want LH exFRA and SQ exSIN.”

    ¿Hablas Inglés?

  8. Hard = hardware = bolted down.

    Soft = software = not bolted, changeable.

    IFE is both hard (screen size and resolution, responsiveness) and soft (content, navigation UX).

    Bedding is definitely soft product.

  9. “For example, is the quality of the entertainment selection considered hard or soft product? For many airlines, the entertainment selection changes every month. I’m inclined to call it hard product”

    Then China Southern doesn’t have even the best hard product either, eh…

  10. I think you may be overthinking it with the “does it vary from flight to flight.” I like Good service’s explanation — is it bolted down or not? In most cases I think of hard product as the seat, and everything else is soft product, though you make a good point that with showers, onboard bars, etc., that would probably also be considered hard product.

  11. Who’s tired of hearing bloggers talk about soft product and hard product. It isn’t the normal vocabulary of most people.

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