What You Should Know Before Booking a Bulkhead Seat on a Flight

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TL;DR : More legroom, get off the plane faster : No direct tray table in front, likely to be near babies : Traditional IFE and tray table placement, under-seat storage : Less recline (depending), often further back in the plane, exit-row responsibility

Erica Ho Erica Ho is a former reporter for TIME in Hong Kong and former geek at Gizmodo and Lifehacker. Her work has appeared in CNN, Yahoo!, MSN, Mashable, Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler and Quartz to name a few places.

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Is Bulkhead Seating the Same on all Airlines?

Not even close. Bulkhead seating varies by airline and airplane. Sure, some are similar, but generally speaking they vary wildly. This is because each airline will usually configure the airplane model to meet their specific business needs as part of the purchase from say Boeing or Airbus.

This is why we always recommend checking out your assigned seat (or likely seat if flying Southwest) on SeatGuru.com or even SeatMaestro.com.

Are bulkhead seats more expensive?

Paid Seats Depending on the airline, bulkhead seats often cost extra to sit in. While some airlines may offer these seats to elite passengers as a benefit of a loyalty program, these bulkhead seats often come with a price tag for normal passengers.

Disadvantages of Bulkhead seats

Bulkhead seats also have disadvantages that should be considered based on your individual preferences before you decide to choose a bulkhead seat for your flight.

  • One of the things that can be an issue with bulkhead seats is that there is no under-seat storage for your purses or smaller carry-ons which forces you to store everything in your overhead bin. This can be a little disconcerting for passengers who are used to keeping small valuables very close to their person.
  • Also, armrest for these seats is fixed, which eliminates the possibility of folding them out to lay down or relax.
  • Another possible challenge with bulkhead seats is that they are normally given to families with small kids and you will be sharing the row with them. This becomes a problem when you have to deal with crying babies or restless toddlers for the duration of the flight, which can make the flight experience a little uncomfortable for you.
  • Bulkhead seats are often close to bathroom and galley facilities which will result in increased traffic in the vicinity of your seat, whether from people going to and from the bathroom or Flight Attendants using the galley area.
  • Another possibility is that there might be an odor emanating from the bathroom, which will surely be discomforting if you are close by. Unless of course, you’re traveling with Asian airlines, .
  • Also, for airplanes that have a projector screen upfront, you will always be subjected to the glare from the screen, which might affect your ability to get some well-needed sleep.

Bulkhead vs emergency exit row seats

You might have heard about exit row seating and possibly saw the amount of room exit row seats have compared to regular economy. 

Compared to bulkhead seats, exit row seats come with a lot of legroom (typically, 3-9 more inches than a regular economy seat) and still allow you to store your personal item under the seat in front of you on US carriers. For most foreign carriers, you cannot store your personal item under the seat in front of you.

Southwest Airlines 737 max 8 exit row 16 economy
Southwest Airlines 737 max 8 exit row 16 economy

Sometimes, exit row seats have the same seat width as regular economy seats. This means you don’t have to worry about a tighter experience and the armrest is moveable. This doesn’t hold try all the time as it depends on the airline and aircraft.

Here is an example of an exit row with moveable armrests:

Delta A320 exit row 16 economy
Delta A320 exit row 16 economy

And here is an example of an airline with fixed armrests:

Garuda Indonesia 737 exit row 31 economy
Garuda Indonesia 737 exit row 31 economy

Yet, with anything about flying, there is a catch about exit row seats. Some exit row seats aren’t reclinable. Thus, you must check particular seat maps on SeatGuru to see if the exit row seat you want to reserve can recline or not. The good thing about no reclining is that the seat in front of you cannot recline into your personal space because it’s the exit row.

To be able to reserve an exit row seat, you need to be able to speak English or that carriers country’s native language if it’s not English. You must be 15 years or older. You cannot be pregnant or have any disabilities as in an event you must assist in an evacuation. These type of restrictions limit the type of people sitting in these seats. 

Asiana Airlines A320 exit row diagram
Asiana Airlines A320 exit row diagram

Comparing bulkhead to exit row seats, you might be thinking to yourself, both offer pros that give more benefits and cons that limit things that you can and cannot do. Both bulkhead and exit row seats are charged as a premium, but you can select both at check-in.

For me, I prefer exit row seats. Exit row seats typically offer more legroom than bulkhead seats behind a wall and keep the seat width most of the time (depending on the carrier and aircraft configuration.)

Is Bulkhead Seating the same as the exit row seating?

No and yes. Sometimes the bulkhead seat is also an exit row (usually the exits near the front of the plane). But many times the exit row is NOT a bulkhead (e.g. the over wing exit row).

Usually a bulkhead-exit-row hybrid seat (like seat 8C on a United 757-300) is a perfect recipe for flying bliss. Lots of legroom…and by lots. Usually, though, these seats are just referred to as exit row seats and not bulkhead seats despite a wall being in front of your seat on the far side of the exit row.

Conclusion

Finally, Bulkhead seats are cherished by many passengers and conversely despised by many others.

If you desire the benefits of more legroom, want the opportunity to deplane quickly, or if you are traveling with your young family, the Bulkhead seat might be perfect for you.

It is, however, always a good idea to find out more details about the Bulkhead seats on the specific airline that you are traveling on before making a final decision.

Happy Flying!

Are bulkhead seats good?

The bulkhead is often regarded as one of the best seats for improving a sleeper’s comfort. In first-class or business class, it is often used as a seat with the widest footwell cutout. Due to the lack of row space in front of bulkhead seats, they have more legroom than other seats of the same cabin. Also, they tend to be more open and roomy.

Are bulkhead seats more expensive?

The more legroom that a seat has, the more it will cost. Also, since bulkhead seats do not have rows in the front, they have a different configuration when it comes to tray table. On some airlines, infants are allowed to travel in the bulkhead seats. On other airlines, these seats are reserved for families with lap infants.

What are the worst seats on a plane?

The worst seats on a plane are usually in the last row, says David Duff, a content specialist at SeatGuru. While it may seem like a luxury to have your seat reclined during a flight, it can be very rude.

Are extra legroom seats worth it?

The extra space between the seats can’t prevent the front seat from reclining. However, it can help keep the front seat from moving forward. In Old Norse, bulki meant “cargo.” In Europe during the 15th century, builders and sailors figured out how to prevent cargo from moving when docked. They called this structure “bulkheads.”

Do seats in front of bulkhead recline?

bulkhead seats can be noisy due to their proximity to the galley or lavatories. Although there are certain seats that are more advantageous than others, the main difference between the seats on a plane is that they’re closer to the front. An aisle seat is ideal for people traveling short distances.

Which row in first class is best?

Row One in first class is best for people who are at the very front of a plane. You have the most room and no one in the back. Many families like to sit at the back of the plane. I prefer to sit up front since it’s easier to get to/off the plane and the front seats have extra legroom.

Which seat is best in flight with infant?

If you’re flying with a friend or family member, you might want to book a window or aisle seat in an attempt to avoid having to share it with someone else. An exit row seat can provide much-needed relief from the noise and pressure of the cabin.

Does the middle seat get both armrests?

Experts have agreed that the person in the middle seat gets the control over the armrests. In terms of comfort, the average seat pitch has increased by about 30 inches since the 1980s. This guide shows you which planes and seats have the least legroom.

Airplane bassinet seats

Airlines, especially foreign airlines, will prioritize bulkhead seats for parents traveling and in need of a bassinet. Bulkhead seats give the parents flying a with a lap infant under 20lbs the ability to reserve a bassinet, a detachable cot, so the parents don’t have the hold the infant for many hours on hand.

Airplane bassinets allow the parents to give the infant room to spread out in the bassinet and relax, along with the parents. Plus, there are accessories for bassinets that allow it to be easier for the parents to block the cabin lights and noise for the infant to sleep.

There are a few safety restrictions when it comes to infants flying in a bassinet. The infant must be 20lbs or less, cannot have the infant use the bassinet during take-off, landing, and heavy turbulence (related: Turbulence Maps). In reality, bassinets aren’t so safe as they aren’t fixed to the plane and are attached by a few mechanisms or velcro. This is why you cannot leave your infant in the bassinet unattended.

Cathay Pacific A330-300 business class seat 11k bu
Cathay Pacific A330-300 business class seat 11k bulkhead bassinet

Bassinet seats must be reserved prior to departure when there is a lap infant on the reservation. The best way to do this is by calling the airline as they will reserve it since some airlines don’t have the ability for you to reserve it online.

To learn more about bassinets and if an airline offers it, I suggest checking with the airline directly by calling, checking SeatGuru as it will label seats on airline’s aircraft if they have a bassinet option or not, or check out the blog post by Have Baby Will Travel.

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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