Airlines know the seats people will pay the most for. Therefore, they’ve separated the cabin into categories and charge fees according to the demand for each type of seat. The categories vary from something as simple as preferred seats, which aren’t any different from other seats besides being closer to the front of the plane than the back. Some low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier will charge extra for all of the aisle and window seats, knowing people will pay to avoid being in the dreaded middle seat.
The next section airlines charge more for is “extra” seats. These are seats the airlines install with extra legroom. There are multiple reasons for airlines to have these seats. They’re the ones frequent flyers can choose when buying a ticket to ensure they’ll have a comfortable flight. For the rest of the passengers who don’t want to be crammed in shoulder to shoulder, it’s a way to pay for a somewhat more civilized flying experience.
There are two other rows of the plane included with the “extra” section. The exit rows and the bulkhead row(s). I get the appeal of an exit row, but for the life of me, I can’t understand the appeal of the bulkhead.
Here’s my idea of a bulkhead seat. You’re sitting in a row with no tray table in the row in front of you. Because of that, the tray table is in your armrest, decreasing the width of your seat. If the plane has any type of entertainment system, your screen is mounted to the wall but it’s farther away than normal, yet no larger than the rest, making it less functional. If the screen is a touchscreen, it’s too far away to touch.
You have no space to place your items under the seat in front of you so you need to store them in the overhead with the rest of your carry-on bags. Since airlines will often use the overhead space above the first 1-2 rows as a place for emergency equipment or the props for the onboard announcement (mock seat belt and life vest) you might have to store your items a few rows behind where you’re sitting.
While it was true that the bulkhead used to have a large amount or even unlimited legroom, that’s no longer the case on many planes. In fact, you’re barely able to stretch out your legs anymore. While in a normal seat it’s still possible to get a full extension if you know the proper body mechanics, breathing technique and yoga training.
So how can airlines get away with charging so much extra for these seats?
It’s perception versus reality. Honestly, if you check out a seat map on a plane, the bulkhead seats are rarely the ones that are booked first. The only people booking seats in the “extra” sections far in advance are frequent flyers who get to choose those seats for free. Look at what seats they pick. They go for the exit rows or the first rows of the preferred section but the bulkhead seats are usually empty. They’ll remain available for purchase for between $25 to $75, depending on the length of the flight. You’re often able to purchase or upgrade, to these seats up until the day of departure and at that time the only people buying them are those forced to because those are the only seats available for purchase at the last minute.
It seems like the only ones who like the bulkhead are the ones who treat the plane like it’s their living room, such as this passenger on one of my recent flights.
So why do airlines think people are willing to pay extra for bulkhead seats and how can airlines still get away with charging extra for them?
I have no answer to that question. Airlines often will hold these seats for those with special needs, which is totally fine with me. I wouldn’t care if they held them for that instance on every flight. I’ve not been on an airline where some passenger doesn’t have some sort of issue where sitting in the front row would be an advantage for them. I’m sure that passengers would appreciate not having to walk through the plane to their seat more than the passenger in the above photo who just wants to use the bulkhead as their personal footrest.
Want to comment on this post? Great! Read this first to help ensure it gets approved.
Want to sponsor a post, write something for Your Mileage May Vary or put ads on our site? Click here for more info.
Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love it if you decided to hang around and sign up to get emailed notifications of when we post.
Whether you’ve read our articles before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!
This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
“You’re sitting in a row with no tray table in the row in front of you. Because of that, the tray table is in your armrest, decreasing the width of your seat. ”
This is actually one of the primary benefits of a bulk head seat. No matter how large the person next to you is they will not be able to squeeze any part of their body into your seat.
I’m a 6’1″ average American male and fit into these seats comfortably.
You forgot 1 very important point, if a person is tall its a great advantage not having your knees get busted by the person in the row ahead of you reclining their seat. And many folks today when they recline do it in a full swoop, goodbye knees.
The only time I head for them is when those are the only extra room seats on the plane, where otherwise I cant get my knees in straight ahead of me due to my height
I agree with the narrower width and less padding you can have that seat, thats besides some flights youd think youre sitting in the middle of Grand Central Station during rush hour as people use thats place to go between aisles (on the widebodys)_
Really depends on the aircraft. Most bulkhead seats that I get (since I often prefer those) have extra legroom. I rarely have problems finding overhead space (my status lets me board early), I read on a plane therefore don’t worry about the screen, and haven’t found the width to be a problem.
On really long flights, I bring an inflatable cushion for the seat. Only concession I’ve had to make.
I can’t stand the bulkhead seats either, specifically because you have no under-seat storage space. I need access to my bag while flying for a variety of reasons, so I often avoid bulkhead seats like the plague. But even airlines that have no bulkheads between first and economy often have disadvantages too.
I’m 6’4” and generally prefer exit row seats, but bulkhead is my second choice. In a normal seat, it’s really tight but doable if the person in front of me doesn’t recline. The longer the flight, the less likely this becomes. Accordingly, I’ll trade ready storage space for not having bruised knees.
On some planes, the bulkhead is just a partial-wall divider, and there is access to the area beneath the seat in front of you. Those seats are awesome because you have under seat storage for immediate access to you stuff, you have plenty of leg room, the person in front of you can’t recline into your lap… and as was mentioned in a previous comment, the arm rests are substantial enough that your seat mate isn’t encroaching into your personal space.
Yes, some bulkhead seats do have underseat stowage, so that’s not a concern. Even if there’s no underseat stowage, it is still a good tradeoff since nobody will be reclining into you. And on some aircraft, there’s no stowage underseat on exit rows.
As a passenger with mobility issues, who qualifies for pre-board, I want the first row _after_ the bulkhead, because I want somewhere to put my phone or book, etc. Someone traveling with an oxygen tank or other equipment (are oxygen tanks allowed on planes? I can’t remember if I’ve seen one…) might appreciate the space.
I always avoided the bulkhead seat for many of the same reasons (IFE tucked away, slightly narrower seats, traffic, and not necessarily more legroom -domestic flights -). But someone told me about one of their “tricks” on bulkhead seats that mat change my mind if I end up trying it one day…
He flew JFK-DOH on QR 777 in Economy bulkhead and placed his carry on suitcase under his legs as if it were a futon (effectively making a flat surface). Was able to stretch out in faux business and slept for ~10 of 12 hours. If it’s not against any safety reg, I may give it a shot on an upcoming AF flight.
I know for several longhaul flights they block the bulkhead seats and reserve them for families with babies and provide them with a bassinet.
I personally prefer bulkhead seats since there’s no person in front of me who can recline his seat. Also, I bring an iPad Mini for my IFE and it fits inside the slot for the magazines in front of me.
you forgot the most important thing. nobody in front of you to recline into your face. And some people like having something they can put their feet up against.
Agree. Thinner seat, inferior IFE screen, and no storage, including no regular size seatback pocket. Also, depending on how close the bulkhead wall is in front of you, you may have even less leg room. As far as the person in front of you reclining their seat, it usually isn’t an issue in C+, as there is a couple more inches of seat pitch.
I’m tall, so the bulkhead window seat is the best I can do in any economy section. Exit window is the runner up, but the bulkhead has (in most cases) by far the most room to stretch your legs. Thus, I don’t agree with your point of view but it probably has to do with different priorities based on things that make our journey more comfortable. I couldn’t care less about the tray table placement, but I do care about not being cramped and getting DVT.
I’d also note that in many cases the exit row also has the tray table in the seat your in and not on the seat in front of you
so that isn’t much of an improvement. Plus you only have to have your bags up during take off and landing for bulkhead seats, so I usually take mine back down and use it as a footrest (instead of the wall). That’s assuming its not a smaller plane where the first class seats are in front of you and you can just stow your smaller carryon under that seat. If I can’t get an aisle seat anywhere toward the front of the plane, I will pick a bulkhead window since I can get up to use the facilities or stretch without bothering anyone.
some of the bulkhead seats in 777 economy have been nice in the past. tons of legroom.
The only time I truly looked for it was on a specific flight. Hawaiian Airlines direct/nonstop services from JFK-HNL and its return. On the Airbus A300-A they were using there were 4 combo bulkhead AND exit row seats (2 on each side) which at the time I think were row 37 or so. The bulkhead housed the flight attendant’s jump seat. The jump seat only was used during takeoff and landing when because Hawaiian’s crews is all local, usually let us catch up and talk story with crew weve met before, etc. During the flight, I was able to stretch out (i am 6′) and not even be able to touch the bulkhead with my toes. For an 11 hour non-stop – totally worth it. For any flight under 3 hours – I generally figure I can be miserable.
Anyone above 6’2″ needs the bulkhead or exit row because on many planes, it isn’t possible to even sit in a normal seat without your knees hitting the seatback in front of you, much less if the person in front tried to recline their seat. There’s nothing worse than spending a long flight with your body and legs at an unnatural tilt just to try to fit your legs into the seat.
[…] Just Don’t See the Appeal of Bulkhead Seats: This is a great discussion on Your Mileage May Vary. Do you like bulkhead seats? Since I’m not that tall, I’ve never paid extra to sit […]
“I get the appeal of an exit row, but for the life of me, I can’t understand the appeal of the bulkhead.”
.. and you are how tall??
Yes, exit row first, but bulkhead is best plan B. At 6’6″, I would GLADLY loose the tray and for that matter the IFE to be able to not be crammed into a seat where my knees are already in the back of the seat in front of me (BEFORE any recline). No under seat storage? Boo hoo hoo…put it in the overhead bin!
I will take comfort over convenience anytime.
I found out the hard way on an American Airlines A320 that the tray tables are in the armrests in the exit row like LARA S. says above. Luckily I had the whole row to myself and I moved to the aisle seat with the tray table in the left side and used the little button to raise the aisle side armrest once at cruise altitude. I couldn’t fit comfortably in the narrower seats those rows had so I’ll probably have the same issue with the bulkhead seats.
Foot rest is precisely the reason I prefer bulkhead. On long flight I can pull my carry on down and prop my feet.