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Why the bulkhead is my least favorite seat on the plane

Feb. 07, 2021
5 min read
Why the bulkhead is my least favorite seat on the plane
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Everyone has a preferred seat on the plane. Some snag the aisle; others, like me, choose the window.

But another consideration that will make a substantial difference in the flight experience is where you sit in the cabin.

Personally, the answer is never the bulkhead. Let me explain why.

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No under-seat storage

When I first posed the question on my Instagram page (follow me there), the biggest drawback I noted about the bulkhead was the lack of under-seat storage.

Bulkhead on a United 737 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Federal rules require that anyone seated in Row 1 or in another row with a fixed wall in front of them store all their belongings in the overhead compartment during taxi, takeoff and landing.

You're allowed to keep your bags at your seat once cruising, but there's no dedicated storage space, so your belongings will cut into your (already limited) legroom.

I'm often working during flight, so I value convenient access to my backpack. Plus, finding overhead bin space can be challenging, especially for me since I always try to board at the end.

No space to stretch your legs

Many proponents of sitting in the bulkhead cite the advantage that no one will recline into your space.

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But the flipside to that argument is that there's less space to stretch your legs. Though some cabins, including American's improved "Kodiak" first-class on the Airbus A321, have built footwell cutouts into the bulkhead walls, most airlines don't offer such passenger-friendly features.

American's old first class (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

As such, your leg space is limited by the immovable wall. Sure, you can perch your legs on the wall, but I find that uncomfortable (and some find that socially unacceptable).

Immovable armrests and misplaced in-flight entertainment

Two of the other inconveniences with the bulkhead include the placement of the tray tables and seat-back screens.

In most economy and domestic first-class seats, the tray table folds down from the seat in front of you. In the bulkhead, it folds out of the armrest.

Row 1 on JetBlue's new A220 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

As such, the table has less support and is often more flimsy than normal. It's also placed more awkwardly — closer to the stomach and lower toward the legs.

The armrest is also immovable since it holds the tray table, often limiting the seat width.

Delta A220 with modified inflight entertainment screen (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)

Additionally, if your jet is outfitted with seat-back screens, you'll either find that they flip out from the center console or are fixed to the wall in front of you. Both have awkward viewing angles compared to those in regular seats.

Overcrowding

During the pandemic, I'm doing as much as I can to minimize my person-to-person interactions. Of course, that's nearly impossible on a plane, though the bulkhead is definitely one of the more crowded spaces throughout the cabin.

You'll often find the lavatories and/or galley situated right in front of the bulkhead row, meaning that lines could form for the restrooms and crew could congregate during service — right next to your seat.

When faced with the choice, I prefer to sit in the last row of the domestic first-class cabin, far away from the lavatories and galley. In coach, I'll give myself at least a three-row buffer from the front of the plane.

Of course, some people swear by Row 1 since it offers faster deplaning, but I prefer waiting a few minutes once we're on the ground in exchange for a more comfortable in-flight experience.

The one case where I might choose the bulkhead

While much of the above reasoning applies to nearly every domestic flight I take, the opposite is true for long-haul jaunts in premium cabins.

When flying internationally in business or first-class, the bulkhead is often one of the best seats for an improved sleeping experience.

Singapore's A350 has a much larger sleeping surface at the bulkhead (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

For taller passengers and/or those with large feet, the footwell cutout in the bulkhead is usually substantially larger than other pods.

Of course, you'll need to consider the noise and light pollution that might come from the galley during a red-eye flight.

In JetBlue's overhauled Mint cabin, the carrier will offer two "Studios" with substantially more living space in the front row. When flying the new product, I'll do all that I can to snag one of the two above-average suites, even though it's located in the bulkhead.

JetBlue's new Mint Studio (Rendering courtesy of JetBlue)

Bottom line

The bulkhead is my least favorite seat on the plane.

With limited under-seat storage and legroom, I'll typically do all that I can to avoid sitting there. Your tray table and seat-back monitor are also placed inconveniently in the front row.

Others prefer the bulkhead since there's no one reclining into them, but for me, the cons far outweigh the (limited) advantages.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more