What are the pros and cons of a bulkhead seat on a plane? Where is a bulkhead seat located on a plane? And what in the heck is a bulkhead? These questions (and more) are covered in this exhaustive guide to bulkhead seating.
What you will learn in this article
In this article we discuss everything your need to know about Bulkhead Seats including the following:
- What is Bulkhead Seat?
- Where is Bulkhead Seating on the plane?
- Is Bulkhead Seating the same as the exit row?
- Should I book a Bulkhead Seat?
- Are Bulkhead Seats Good?
- Are Bulkhead Seats more Expensive?
- Sitting in front of a bulkhead wall
- DOT Regulations for Disabled Passengers
- Babies and Bulkhead Seating
- Bulkhead Seats by Airline
Alright then…let’s dig in!
What is Bulkhead Seat?
Before we explain what a bulkhead seat is, let’s answer the burning question:
What in the holy heck is a bulkhead?!?
What is a bulkhead?
According to Wikipedia, the meaning of bulkhead is “…a wall within the hull of a ship, vehicle, or container.” In other words, it’s a wall.
Airplanes have their own funny lingo (e.g. Lavatory, or PAX) and, of course, the bulkhead, which refers to a wall in the airplane.
If a bulkhead is just a wall then what is a bulkhead seat on a plane?
What is a bulkhead seat?
A bulkhead seat is the row of seating directly behind a wall, partition, curtain or divider on an airplane. In many cases it is an actual wall used to separate different seating classes (e.g., First Class from Economy Class). Some airlines, however, use a curtain, half wall, or some other divider, instead of a full wall, and simply call those seats “bulkhead seating.”
Delta defines bulkhead seating as: “a seat on the aircraft with a wall or divider in front of it.”
It’s worth noting that the seats in FRONT of a bulkhead are typically NOT referred to as Bulkhead seating. More on this, below.
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Where is Bulkhead Seating on a plane?
You’ve probably already figured it out by now, but in case you are a little slow:
- Bulkhead seating is the row of airplane seats directly behind a wall, partition or other similar divider on an airplane.
Where is the bulkhead on a plane?
The bulkhead usually divides one class of seating from another.
To expand on this a little bit, while the airplane is a giant tube, it does have a few different sections including (many times) different seating classes like First Class, Business Class, or Economy Class. Many airlines use bulkheads to separate one class of seating from another.
An example of this is noted in the YouTube video below from OneWorldFlyer:
A bulkhead may also simply be the front of the plane. Specifically the very first row of seating. For example, on Southwest Airlines the bulkhead seating is literally row 1…the very front of the passenger seating section.
To give our readers some additional visual cues as what bulkhead seating looks like check out these additional YouTube videos which all feature bulkhead seating:
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.
Are Bulkhead Seats Good?
So, are bulkhead seats good? Is it actually a good thing to sit in a bulkhead. The answer is not simple. As with many things…it’s depends. It depends on the airline, the traveler (are you tall or short), how do you travel, do you need to store stuff under your seat, do you have bags with you, etc. Airplane bulkhead seats vary by airline.
Here’s some principles that may help shed some light on this question though.
Bulkhead airplane seats, in general, mean:
- Good News:
- With airplane bulkhead seats no-one will be leaning their seat back on you
- Some bulkhead seating will mean you get more legroom with there often being a few more inches between your knees and the wall
- Bad News:
- On some airplanes, bulkhead seats may actually mean less legroom because there’s a wall there that restricts you from extending your feet below a seat in front of you.
- Airline bulkhead seat often mean that you won’t have a seat in front of you to store anything below (I never do that anyway)
- The arm rests may be fixed for a bulkhead seat
- Not Good or Bad:
- On most every airplane bulkhead seat the tray table pulls up from the bottom / side of your seat and may be a little wobbly on some airplanes
- Some airlines may have the personal entertainment system mounted on the bulkhead making it a tad farther to reach (Check out the video below to what I am talking about). Others may mount it on a swivel below and to the side your seat.
As noted, some airlines’ bulkhead seats actually do mean more legroom, others mean slightly less. That’s why I use SeatGuru.com to check out any potential bulkhead seating I might get stuck with.
More often than not, though, a bulkhead seat is going to be anywhere from slightly better to a lot better seating than other non-First class seats.
Bulkhead seats at the front of the plane mean:
- You get off quicker
- But may have difficulty storing your bag directly above your seat causing you to potentially have to fight upstream a tad to get it when you de-plane
- You get to chat with the flight attendants
I fly Southwest a lot and I see rookie travelers make this mistake all the time. They board the plane and see that first seat open and go “oooh, I am going to take that!” They open the first two overhead bins (which are usually closed at this point) and they are full of stuff… including the FA’s stuff. So they mosey down the aisle a bit (slowing boarding down!) then toss their stuff up only to swim upstream against the rest of the boarding passengers (sometimes folks will wait).
But when they land the real pain comes. They have to stand there waiting for a chance to get their bag while we all de-plane. I often will get off the plane BEFORE them (and I chuckle a little).
The only time I would recommend sitting in the bulkhead seat of a Southwest flight would be:
- You have no luggage (not even a purse or backpack)
- You have one bag and you get VERY lucky to find a spot in the bin above your seat
Otherwise…move along. You will thank me. For other airlines, however, a bulkhead seat on a plane can be a major coup!
Should I book a Bulkhead Seat? Are bulkhead seats good?
Big surprise here…but maybe and it depends. 🙂
Sorry, there are just so many factors that come into play when considering bulk head seats. For example:
- Your size
- How much luggage you are traveling with
- How quickly you like to get on and off the plane
- How much leg room you need / prefer
For my money, I try to avoid booking a bulkhead seat in most cases. I will take an exit row any of the day of the week!
That said, a business class bulkhead seat on an International Flight can be quite nice. For example, as highlighted in this YouTube Video of a Business Class Bulkhead Seat on Lufthansa, it’s not bad at all.
Are Bulkhead Seats more Expensive?
The answer is maybe and it varies by airline and circumstance. Airline seat pricing is confusing as heck anyway (if you ask me) and that certainly extends to things like exit row and bulkhead seating.
Many airlines have multiple seating classes on their planes (including sub-classes in economy). For example, on United Airlines many of the bulkhead seats happen to fall in what’s known as Economy Plus seating which runs passengers a bit more than your plane ole-back-of-the-bus-I-am-broke-af economy seating.
But Southwest Airlines doesn’t have assigned seating or classes. It’s first come first served and so you won’t pay anymore for any particularly seat and you might just get lucky and be able to sit in a bulkhead row.
Sitting in front of a Bulkhead Wall
While the seating in front of a bulkhead on an airplane typically is not referred to as “bulkhead seating” it is worth paying attention to. In some cases, seats sitting directly in front of a bulkhead may not recline or only recline a tiny amount. This is not always the case, and you can use websites like SeatGuru.com to figure out the details of any specific seat on any specific airline and flight including whether that seat reclines or not.
DOT Regulations for Disabled Passengers & Bulkhead Seating
The Department of Transportation has prescribed specific accommodations that must be made for disabled passengers that meet certain criteria. One possible accommodation includes moving said passengers to a bulkhead seat upon request. You can read the entire policy below, but at the highest levels it means this:
- If you have a fused or immobilized leg the airline must provide you (at your request) a seat with extra legroom. This is usually a bulkhead seat and it’s within your purchased seat class (meaning, if you bought an economy ticket you are not necessarily getting a free upgrade to a first class bulkhead seat. Instead, you can be assigned a bulkhead set in economy class).
- In some cases, passengers with service animals may qualify for a bulkhead seat as well (e.g., a place for the dog to lay at your feet)
- It’s best to self-identify with your airline so they can reserve you a seat
- For airlines (like Southwest) that don’t do assigned seats, you get to board first and will likely get seated into a bulkhead row
- Generally speaking, disabled passengers are prohibited from seating in exit rows – and that applies to hybrid exit / bulkhead rows.
- The airlines still maintain a good deal of latitude in assigning seats and the actual policy may often vary given the specific situation on the plane itself (for example, here’s Delta’s policy)
Babies, Bulkhead Seating and Skycots (aka a Bulkhead Bassinet)
Some airlines – particularly larger airlines that serve international routes offer what’s sometimes known as a bassinet row which is usually a bulkhead seat also. With a bassinet row / bulkhead row families traveling with infants can take advantage of a cool feature of some airplanes: a platform that folds down that you can place a bassinet on (these seats are sometimes known as skycots or a bulkhead bassinet).
The policies on skycots vary wildly and many planes don’t have them. It’s best to check with your airline for details. The folks over at FlyingWithABaby.com have a great article on the specific details and limitations of skycot seating.
Or check out this cool video that shows a skycot / bassinet on a Toyko flight:
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.
Bulkhead seats by Airline – are they all the same?
Not at all. As noted by some of the videos shared earlier in this post there is a WIDE variance in airplane configuration by airline. Never mind that many airlines have multiple airplane models in their fleet (unlike Southwest who sticks with a small number of very similar planes).
So, if you looking for a Bulkhead Seat on Delta Airlines it could wildly different that a Bulkhead Seat on United or American.
Final thoughts on Bulkhead Seats
Wow…who knew there was so much information to be had on bulkhead seating. But, indeed there is! That’s also why we created this bulkhead seating guide – and what we believe is the largest and most comprehensive resources on the Internet on bulkhead seats. We hope your key bulkhead questions have been answered!
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