I Just Don’t See The Appeal Of Bulkhead Seats

Airlines know what seats people will pay the most for. Therefore, they’ve separated the cabin into seat categories and charge a fee 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 the aisle and window seats, knowing people will pay to avoid being in the dreaded middle seat (although that may change in the future).

The next section airlines will charge more for are the “extra” seats. These are the seats the airlines install with some extra legroom. There are multiple reasons for airlines to have these seats. They’re the ones frequent flyers can choose when buying a ticket so they ensure they can 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 totally 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 further 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 personal 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 our your legs anymore. While in a normal seat it’s 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 ones who treat the plane like it’s their living room, such as this passenger on one of my recent flights.

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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 passenger 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.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

8 thoughts on “I Just Don’t See The Appeal Of Bulkhead Seats”

  1. “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.

  2. 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)_

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

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