What is a Bulkhead Seat on an Airplane?

Determine what you want

Ronald SarayudejDSC_9612CC BY 2.0

So what makes a great seat? That all depends on personal preference and the type of flight you are taking.

Seat features to consider:

  • Some seats have limited legroom, while others may have more than a standard seat
  • Some seats have reduced seat width, while other economy seats have extra width
  • Some seats have limited recline or do not recline at all. For example, the seats in the row directly in front of the exit row often do not recline.
  • Some seats lack a seat-back pocket and/or seat in front to stow items
  • Some seats have outlets and USB ports, which can be a great perk on a long-haul flight

Passenger types and seat feature combinations to consider:

  • Business travellers or those with connections: Choosing an aisle seat toward the front of the plane can afford you the opportunity to be first off the plane.
  • Travellers with large cabin bag gear: Choose a seat toward the back of the plane as most airlines board from back to front, assuring better odds of finding space in the overhead bins.
  • Nervous flyers: Consider a seat over the wing, which is less effected by turbulence.
  • Travellers on long-haul or overnight flights: If you’re hoping to sleep, consider a window seat, which offers a convenient spot to rest your head between the seat and the wall, eliminating the awkwardness of accidentally resting your head on the shoulder of the stranger next to you, or consider an exit row, which offers space to stretch out.
  • Tall passengers: Consider an exit row or some bulkhead seats, which provide extra pitch, the distance from one seat to the seat in front or behind it – what travellers often refer to as “legroom.” The pitch varies from seat to seat, row to row, type of aircraft and airline. Bottom line: the higher the seat pitch number, the better.
  • Passengers flying with infants: Choose the bassinet positions offered in bulkhead seats. Those with children should consider the non-exit row bulkhead seats, as they tend to be closer to lavatories and provide extra space for kids to spread out.

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Bulkhead seats pros and cons

There is a famous post on FlyerTalk from 2006 about bulkhead seats are the worst. Then there are the commenters below that argue why bulkhead seats are the best seats on the plane.

In the end, it really depends on the airline and aircraft configuration. Many variables come to a bulkhead seat being the best seat or one of the worst seat on the plane.

Pros of a bulkhead seat

Just like everything in life, there will be pros, but it’s up to you to decide what you value for the right seat for you.

Sometimes greater legroom

Bulkhead seating can offer more excellent legroom compared to the other seats in the same cabin. This can be true for any cabin bulkhead seat. Now, this isn’t guaranteed as each airline and aircraft will have a different configuration, but it’s typical to see more legroom compared to other seats in the same cabin. Typically, the legroom will be about 3 to 7 more inches than regular seats.

No one reclines in your face

You’re relaxing watching a film or working on your laptop and then suddenly the person in front of you reclines…. right in your face. This is where bulkhead seats make a huge difference. No one will recline into your headspace.

You will get served sooner

Depending on how the airline serves passengers, if you’re seated in a bulkhead seat, you will most likely be served first as flight attendants start from the lowest number row and move towards the back of the plane. This means you can get your snacks, meals, and drinks served sooner rather than later. And in those cases where they run out of certain items, you probably won’t get stuck with the slim pickin’s. 

Closer to the front

Bulkhead seating typically is in the front of the cabin. This means you can deplane much quicker than the passengers behind you. However, widebodies bulkhead seating might be in the middle of the cabin too. 

Easier to exit your seat

No matter if you’re seated in the aisle, middle, or window bulkhead seat, being able to stand up with more significant room and no worries about hitting the seat in front of you are much better than squeezing yourself out avoiding the person seated in front of you.

Cons of a bulkhead seat

Just like everything in life, there will be cons, but it’s up to you to decide what you value for the right seat for you.

No luggage storage

Most economy bulkhead seats will not have any floor storage. For example, when there is a wall you’re not allowed to store any piece of luggage on the floor as it would block you in an evacuation. However, in some cases, if your seat is a bulkhead seat behind another seat, as shown above, then you can store your luggage.

Economy seats have less width

In economy, the IFE (also known as inflight entertainment) will be stowed during seat armrest along with your tray table. This means you have less width and an armrest that you cannot move.

Proximity to lavatories

Most bulkhead seats will be close to lavatories. This can cause more foot traffic by your seat causing more noise and disruptions, so keep your noise-cancelling headphones handy. Also, don’t forget the smells that might come from the lavatory…

Proximity to the galley

Being close to the galley is nothing special, and to me, I hate the noise and light the galley generates. Everything from the flight attendants preparing for meal service to the light from the galley seeping past the curtain that is not closed. And then there is the added con of US carriers not having a noise dampening curtain that barely blocks any light just to save a buck.

Sometimes less legroom

Some bulkhead walls will limit the amount of legroom you have. Of course, it depends on the airline and aircraft configuration, but this can be common with foreign carriers that don’t charge extra for bulkhead seats.

Are Bulkhead Seats Good?

So, are bulkhead seats good? Is it actually a good thing to sit in a bulkhead. The answer is not simple. As with many things…it’s depends. It depends on the airline, the traveler (are you tall or short), how do you travel, do you need to store stuff under your seat, do you have bags with you, etc. Airplane bulkhead seats vary by airline.

Here’s some principles that may help shed some light on this question though.

Bulkhead airplane seats, in general, mean:

  • Good News:
    • With airplane bulkhead seats no-one will be leaning their seat back on you
    • Some bulkhead seating will mean you get more legroom with there often being a few more inches between your knees and the wall
  • Bad News:
    • On some airplanes, bulkhead seats may actually mean less legroom because there’s a wall there that restricts you from extending your feet below a seat in front of you.
    • Airline bulkhead seat often mean that you won’t have a seat in front of you to store anything below (I never do that anyway)
    • The arm rests may be fixed for a bulkhead seat
  • Not Good or Bad:
    • On most every airplane bulkhead seat the tray table pulls up from the bottom / side of your seat and may be a little wobbly on some airplanes
    • Some airlines may have the personal entertainment system mounted on the bulkhead making it a tad farther to reach (Check out the video below to what I am talking about). Others may mount it on a swivel below and to the side your seat.

As noted, some airlines’ bulkhead seats actually do mean more legroom, others mean slightly less. That’s why I use SeatGuru.com to check out any potential bulkhead seating I might get stuck with.

More often than not, though, a bulkhead seat is going to be anywhere from slightly better to a lot better seating than other non-First class seats.

Bulkhead seats at the front of the plane mean:

  • You get off quicker
  • But may have difficulty storing your bag directly above your seat causing you to potentially have to fight upstream a tad to get it when you de-plane
  • You get to chat with the flight attendants

I fly Southwest a lot and I see rookie travelers make this mistake all the time. They board the plane and see that first seat open and go “oooh, I am going to take that!” They open the first two overhead bins (which are usually closed at this point) and they are full of stuff… including the FA’s stuff. So they mosey down the aisle a bit (slowing boarding down!) then toss their stuff up only to swim upstream against the rest of the boarding passengers (sometimes folks will wait).

But when they land the real pain comes. They have to stand there waiting for a chance to get their bag while we all de-plane. I often will get off the plane BEFORE them (and I chuckle a little).

The only time I would recommend sitting in the bulkhead seat of a Southwest flight would be:

  1. You have no luggage (not even a purse or backpack)
  2. You have one bag and you get VERY lucky to find a spot in the bin above your seat

Otherwise…move along. You will thank me. For other airlines, however, a bulkhead seat on a plane can be a major coup!

Cons

The biggest benefit of nothing in front of you can also be your greatest drawback. Since you have to store all your stuff in the bins above you, if you need to access your stuff, you will be constantly getting up or may even need to wait until the unfasten seatbelt sign is lit.

If you plan on watching the in-flight entertainment then you must be prepared for the possibility that your entertainment or display screens may be farther away from your viewing position then those on regular seats.

Lastly, the in-arm tray tables found at bulkhead seats do not tend to work as well as tray tables that drop down from the seat in front of you.

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