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Bulkhead seats are typically coveted by many for different features like the added legroom, but to some bulkhead seats are nothing more than a fake premium economy seat with numerous disadvantages (and annoyances). In this article, I go over the pros and cons for bulkhead seats along with some insight into airplane bassinets and how bulkhead seating can vary with different airlines like Singapore Airlines.
What is a bulkhead seat?
An airplane bulkhead seat is the very first seat in a division between two cabins. Sometimes the seat will be behind a wall, a seat in a different cabin, or a different type of division between cabins.
Bulkheads on aircraft will usually be considered a wall in front of seats or when cabin classes change. For example, the economy class seat behind first class will be regarded as a bulkhead seat.
a dividing wall or barrier between compartments in a ship, aircraft, or other vehicle.
Traditionally, bulkheads look like the pictures below — it’s simply a seat that is right after the wall in the cabin.
However, bulkheads come in different shapes and sizes. Bulkhead seats are not defined by a wall, but also a change in class. Typically you can find this on regional aircraft like a 737, A320, A319, CRJ, E170, E190, etc. You can see what I am describing in the picture below.
As you see above, these two bulkhead seats on this Delta CRJ are entirely different, yet the seats are still considered bulkhead seats.
The differences will be different for each airline and aircraft as seat configurations will vary. For example, the economy seat behind the first class cabin has more legroom and allows the passenger to store their personal item under the seat in front of it. However, for a bulkhead seat facing the wall, no floor storage is allowed. Therefore, you cannot have your items readily accessible.
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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.
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.
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.
Bulkhead makes a difference for some airlines seats
This is particularly true in business class. Airlines like Singapore, Qatar, Delta, and China Eastern business class differ from non-bulkhead seats because the footwell and pitch are greater.
Take Singapore Airlines business class seat for an example as this is a regular non-bulkhead seat:
Then now taking this Singapore Airlines business class bulkhead seat:
As you can see the footwell and the length of the bulkhead seat is better for the non-bulkhead seat. The non-bulkhead seat, you can see the footwell is to the side and pretty narrow. However, the bulkhead seat allows you to stretch out without a limited footwell as the bulkhead seat has an ottoman.
Of course, I am just using Singapore Airlines as an example, but as I wrote above, bulkhead business class seats have a slightly wider footwell and are longer on other airlines.
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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.
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:
And here is an example of an airline with fixed armrests:
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.
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.)
How to choose the best airplane seat
No matter what class, selecting the best seat on the plane is essential for comfort and privacy.
Daniel wrote an article with 17 tips for finding the best seat on a plane. He writes tips and tricks of identifying the “best” seat in the cabin you selected. Plus, he highlights how different type of people will want a different type of seat and location.
Bulkhead seats, like anything about flying, cannot be consistent over different airlines. Each airline and aircraft will be slightly different in terms of privacy, comfort, noise, and light when it comes to bulkhead seats. I hope this summarizes bulkhead seats and helps you decide if bulkhead seats are right for you.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.