Why the bulkhead is my least favorite seat on the plane

Feb 7, 2021

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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.

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.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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