Why bulkhead and exit row seats are not always the best pick

Ask anyone what they think the best seat is on the plane, and most will respond with “the exit row”. And in many cases, the exit row or bulkhead seats are indeed the most cherished row of seats on the plane.

But don’t be tricked into picking the exit row or bulkhead seat without doing a little homework – not all good seats are going to provide any extra comfort, and in some cases, the most desirable seats may actually be the worst on the plane.

Finding the right seat

It isn’t hard to pick the right seat – you just need to have the right tools. My personal favorite is Seatguru.com, the granddaddy of seat map sites. On Seatguru, you can pick your seatmap by plane type, or by flight number. When you see a seatmap presented on the airline site, all seats look the same – and the airlines obviously won’t tell you in advance that a specific seat will be really uncomfortable. If you need instant (mobile) access to Seat maps, you can use the SeatGuru mobile site.

Why some airline seat choices are bad choices

All exit row and bulkhead seats are good right? Wrong. On the SeatGuru seat map, you can see exactly which seats are the most desirable – and in some cases, the exit row seats may indeed be quite a lot better than the others. However, there is more to a good seat than a lot of legroom. Legroom is useless when you are stuck in a seat that doesn’t recline, doesn’t have any room under the seat for bags and has over an inch less width.

The non-reclining seat

Non-reclining seats are usually the seats right in front of the exit row seats. These seats are locked in place to prevent them from being reclined into the exit row. Not everyone likes to recline their seat, but on a long flight, being forced to sit upright can be a real pain.

The tray-table width dillema

Because exit row seats have a lot of leg room in front of them, the tray table had to be moved into the armrest. This shaves an inch or more off the width of your seat, making it quite uncomfortable. Sure, you may have legroom, but that may not make up for the tight squeeze of your seat.

No space for bags

In a “normal” seat, you’ll have room for your bags under the seat in front of you. Having quick access to your bag means you can reach for your MP3 player, bottle of water or laptop. Without this space, you’ll need to store your bag in an overhead bin – which may not always be right above you. If you boarded late, your bag may be 20 rows behind you.

No seat pocket storage

Not only do you lose space under the seat in front of you, you also lose the seatback pocket. For most people, this is where you stash your headphones, magazines and books and a bottle of water. Without this, you’ll once again have to rely on keeping stuff in your bag(s).

Leg room with a price

Even though the row in front of you is pretty far away, there are other objects that may impact your legroom – the window seat may be obstructed by the large slide cover on the emergency door – which is of course something else not mentioned in the airline seat map. In some cases, this large obstruction may even decrease the amount of leg room offered when compared to a normal seat.

Climate control (or lack of)

Being so close to the exit door can often mean you are going to be freezing during your flight. Climate control on planes is bad enough, but on an international flight, the exit row can become especially cold. And since you can’t ask the crew to turn the heat up just for you, you may need to embark on a mission to find a couple of blankets just to stay warm.