Over on Elliot Advocacy’s user forum, one commenter wrote about their experience seated on Air Canada’s premium Preferred Seating section with the promise of “greater legroom” and other parks—at an additional cost of $US100 per seat. But the reality can often be quite different.
“When we boarded the plane in Porto, I discovered that seats 27H and 27K had, in fact, a wall in front of them, which meant that the actual legroom was considerably less than it would have been,” they wrote.
As it turns out, the commenter unknowingly booked what’s referred to as “bulkhead” seating, usually a row located behind the wall that separates one cabin from another. But despite being considered “preferred” seating, it doesn’t always come with additional legroom—or really any other major perk—despite the extra cost.
Editor's note: On Australian domestic flights, these seats are usually located in emergency exit rows. You'll need to agree to assist in the case of an emergency evacuation to sit there.
Instead, airlines might offer it to customers as a means of boarding and deplaning first, since you’re usually given some kind of priority access, or just a more comfortable seat. If you’re considering buying a bulkhead seat, here are a few things you should absolutely consider first.
For one, if you want to splurge on premium seating with extra legroom, make sure to read the fine print while browsing. Airlines like American, for instance, offer Main Cabin Extra seating in bulkhead rows with a guarantee of an additional three to six inches of extra legroom.
Air Canada’s policy, however, is trickily worded; according to its website, the airline offers “extra knee room” in bulkhead seats—which makes sense since someone can’t recline in front of you, but it’s careful not to mention legroom. (Air Canada could not be immediately reached for comment regarding its policy on legroom, specifically.)
If ever you’re in doubt, always search for your seat using SeatGuru’s airlines’ seat maps and look for rows behind or around exit rows. (This seat map for a United Airlines’ Boeing 757-200, for instance, shows that most bulkhead seats do provide extra legroom, with a few exceptions.) If you find that your row doesn’t note additional legroom, try exchanging it for another that does.
Since bulkhead seating tends to be located around lavatories, you might also reconsider booking one if you don’t want to deal with the constant presence of passengers in line standing over you. (Again, check your seat map to be sure.)
Lastly, as you’ll be located behind a wall, you likely won’t have any storage beneath a seat in front of you. If that’s a problem, and you need your carry-on readily accessible, maybe consider a different seat. As Smarter Travel writes, your seat might also have a slightly smaller width than your average seat, specifically because it must make room for your tray table in your armrest, though it may only mean an inch or two at most.
And in case anyone ever asks to trade seats, well, here’s a case for telling them “in your dreams, buddy.”