Most airlines these days charge an extra fee to book bulkhead seats. I have been successful in booking bulkhead seats in advance with Air Canada (at $50 extra per seat plus an additional $14 per seat for advance seat selection), however on flights with United and Icelandair, we were unable to book bulkhead seats in advance and had to wait to request them at check in.
If you are traveling with small baby, it is worth asking your airline if they offer bassinettes – small cots that hang from the bulkhead so your little one can sleep. These bassinettes generally accommodate a baby up to about 6 months old, but they are only available if you are sitting in a bulkhead row and other families have not already reserved them. Neither Air Canada nor United provide them on North American flights, including flights to Hawaii. If you get one, bring your own sheet(s).
The benefits of bulkhead seats
Bulkhead seats are a real bonus if you are traveling with an active baby or toddler, as they usually provide substantially more room to move around. On flights with personal entertainment units at each seat, you can tuck them away under the armrest, and out of reach of button-happy babies. But by far the biggest advantage is not having seats directly in front of you, meaning there is nobody to put their seat back (people always seem to do it when I am retrieving a toy off the floor) and no seats for a child to kick!
If you have purchased a seat for your child and they will be traveling in a car seat, in most cases the passenger seated in front of them will not be able to recline their seat because there won't be enough room to do so. And if there is enough room to recline the seat, your child's feet are sure to be right up against the seat back, a sure-fire way to encourage seat-kicking, not to mention being downright uncomfortable for the child. Sitting in bulkhead seats means this is not an issue. (I'll address flying with a car seat more fully in a separate post!)
While bulkhead seats offer many advantages, they have a few big drawbacks
If you are in the bulkhead, make sure you have must-haves like wipes and bottles handy in your pockets or a waist pack, because you may not have access to your carry on bags when you need them i.e. during take offs, landings and turbulence. I learned that the hard way on a flight from Toronto to Orlando – as I wrote in an earlier post, B spit up on me as we were landing and I couldn’t do a thing about it because I’d stowed the diaper bag away, wipes and all.
On planes without personal entertainment units, the movie screen is often mounted on the bulkhead. This can be fun for a small child if it is a really kid-friendly movie, but is a nightmare if you are trying to get your child to sleep.
Whether you are sitting in a bulkhead seat or elsewhere on the plane, here are some additional considerations:
Try to request seats as close to the front of the plane as possible. Not only does this enable you to get to your seats quickly, giving you that extra bit of time to snag overhead space and get your child comfortable, but ensures you get off quickly at the end of the flight. There is very little a toddler (or anyone for that matter) wants to do less than wait at their seat while everyone else gets off ahead of them.
If you plan to nurse on the flight and/or expecting your child to sleep on your lap, try to select a window seat. The convex shape of the window side provides that extra bit of space needed for baby to lie down. Aisle seats are a bad idea because it is far too easy for baby’s head or feet to get bumped by people and carts moving down the aisle.
Children are not permitted to sit in exit rows which tend to offer more leg room. However, many airlines have comfort plus seats, meaning for an extra fee you can book seats with a little more leg room. It’s always worth asking when you check-in if these seats are available, as some airlines will allow you to use them at no extra charge if they are not already booked.
Be aware that in some planes, the bulkhead is actually a curtain. Unless you want to use a bassinette, this can actually be a benefit because you may get extra legroom AND have underseat storage and seat pockets in front of you.
Here's a summary:
Can use a bassinette, if available
More space for a child to stand and play
Can tuck tv screens out of sight and out of the reach of little fingers
- No seats in front for other passengers to recline
No seats in front for a child to kick!
No underseat storage or seat pockets, so you don’t always have access to your stuff
Many older airplanes have movie screens on the bulkhead – a nightmare if you are trying to get your baby to sleep.