October 21, 2022

What is a Bulkhead Seat?

By Paul William

October 21, 2022

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links which means I receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through them.

Bulkhead seats are seats located directly behind an airplane’s internal partition (like the divider between first-class and economy). These seats generally have more legroom, an armrest tray table, and easy access to the lavatory.

If you’re looking for maximum legroom, and don’t want to pay for first class, bulkheads seats are an option to consider.

Row 11 is the bulkhead.
Image courtesy of SeatGuru

Depending on the size and model of aircraft you’re flying on, there may be a single bulkhead near the front of the plane (common for short regional flights) or 3-4+ bulkheads on longer international flights.

The 4 main bulkhead configurations you’ll likely see are:

  • The very first seats on the plane
  • The seats directly behind the lavatories
  • Exit rows (not technically a bulkhead, but the same idea)
  • The seats directly behind the flight-attendant food stations

Is a Bulkhead seat better? The Pros and Cons:

This really comes down to personal preference. Here are some trade-offs to consider when deciding if a bulkhead is the right seating choice for you.

A video walkthrough of an American Airlines 777-200 bulkhead seat in row 13

Pros of Bulkhead Seats on an airplane:

  • More legroom (usually, but not always)
  • Easy access to the lavatory
  • No one in front of you to recline
  • Easy to get up and stretch

Cons of Bulkhead Seats on an airplane:

  • Constant traffic from people using the lavatory (more of a problem on red-eye flights)
  • Smaller armrest tray table
  • No under-seat storage means you must use the overhead bin during takeoff and landing
  • Less convenient entertainment system (your screen is usually attached to the bulkhead or your seat will have a smaller fold-out armrest display.

Can I request a bulkhead seat for my flight?

When you purchase your ticket or check in for your flight, you’ll be able to select a bulkhead seat from the online seat map, as long as one is still available. 

Some airlines reserve bulkhead seats for families traveling with small children, but will gladly give you the seat if you speak with an airline representative when you arrive at the airport.

If you’re ever unsure about which seats are the bulkheads on a flight, the site SeatGuru lets you explore seat maps of 1,278 different aircraft — you can even search by flight number.

Do Bulkhead seats recline?

Bulkhead seats do recline, but some may have a slightly more limited recline than standard seats.

It’s really the seats directly in front of the exit rows that usually don’t offer recline — this is for safety reasons so there’s nothing blocking the exit in case of an emergency.

Additional Bulkhead Seat Considerations

There are a few other factors to take into account when deciding whether booking a bulkhead seat is the right choice for you:

1. Accessibility

Bulkhead seats are often allocated to passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility due to their close proximity to the boarding door and the extra legroom.

This makes it easier for them to board and disembark the aircraft.

Be aware that if you choose a bulkhead seat, you might be asked to switch seats if someone with special needs requires the space. This has never actually happened to me, but it’s possible.

2. Bassinet Positions (crying babies!)

Many long-haul flights offer bassinets for infants, which are generally attached to the bulkhead walls.

This means that bulkhead seats may be more likely to have families with young children nearby, potentially increasing noise levels.

If you’re a light sleeper or prefer a quieter environment, you may want to consider choosing a seat away from the bulkhead.

3. Seating Configuration

Bulkhead seats can have different seating configurations depending on the aircraft model.

For example, in a 3-3-3 configuration, you may find that the middle bulkhead seats have a narrower space between the seat and the bulkhead, reducing the legroom advantage. You’d have to check the specific layout of your aircraft to determine the best seat for your needs.

4. Seat Width

Since the armrests in bulkhead seats typically house the tray table and entertainment system, they might be wider and fixed, resulting in slightly reduced seat width compared to standard seats. If you prefer a more spacious seating area, you may want to consider other options.

5. Proximity to Galley

Bulkhead seats are often located near the galley, which means you might experience increased noise and activity from flight attendants preparing meals and beverages.

If you’re sensitive to noise, keep this in mind when choosing your seat.

Should you choose bulkhead seating on your flight?

bulkhead seat airplane black man

Your choice ultimately comes down to personal preference and weighing the pros and cons we discussed.

It’s important to consider your specific needs and preferences.

But if you’ve thought about the factors above, you should have all the information you need to decide whether or not a bulkhead is right for you on your next flight.

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