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. You can avoid this if you buy a seat on one of the four airlines that are limiting capacity and blocking seats because of the coronavirus.
The next section airlines charge more for are “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 so they ensure they will 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 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 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.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary