What is the bulkhead? Do airlines provide infant bassinets for babies?
For those of you who have flown internationally, either with a baby, or solo, you’ve probably at some point seen a flight attendant taking a bassinet down from the overhead and attaching it to the wall in the bulkhead seats. There seems to be a lot of confusion, though, even among people who have traveled with a baby, about what the deal is with the bassinet. Here’s the low down on infant bassinets in the bulkhead:
What is the bulkhead?
First of all, by “bulkhead” I am talking about that row of seats in the front of each section of the plane where there is a wall in front of the seats, rather than another row of seats. On the seat map to the left, the bulkhead seats would be rows 1, 11, and 25. This is generally (but not always) right by a lavatory or kitchen area. On smaller planes (typically domestic flights), there may only be one row of bulkhead. On larger planes (typically international flights), there may be two, three, or even four rows of bulkhead seats, depending on how many sections of the plane. Bulkhead seats are often coveted seats by many passengers because: 1) they provide more leg room, and 2) you don’t have anyone throwing their seat back into you, further minimizing your leg room.
Can I sit in the bulkhead with a baby if it is an emergency exit row?
Some bulkhead seats are located in emergency exit rows (E.g. where a door pops open in case of emergency). This is often the case on domestic flights. Bassinets are not available, and small children are typically not allowed, in emergency exit rows as passengers seated there need to be capable of assisting other passengers in case of an emergency. On the seat map to the left, row 25 (and 26) would not be available for you to sit with a baby or small child. Thus, infant bassinets will not be available in bulkhead seats that also happen to be emergency exit rows. The bulkhead seats on smaller planes (E.g. domestic flights) are often emergency exit rows. So, if you are flying on a domestic flight you can always check, but most likely you will not be able to sit in the bulkhead with a small child or baby, nor will an infant bassinet be available to you.
What are the advantages to the infant bassinets in bulkhead?
The biggest advantage is having an extra space for baby to lay down comfortably and sleep, especially for long flights. Plus that extra space is free of charge- you don’t have to buy a separate ticket for baby (at a full adult fare) to have his/her own seat. It also provides you with more leg room, and extra play space at your feet for an older baby to play. When the bassinet is not in use, it’s also a great place to throw toys, snack cups, and diaper supplies. You will also likely be very close to a lavatory and to the kitchen area for diaper changing/ food prep needs.
How do the infant bassinets in the bulkhead work?
On larger aircraft with bulkhead seats you will see small metal disks on the wall in front of the seats. The aircraft stores (overhead) bassinets that fold down and clip into these metal disks (usually the bassinet has two metal pegs, each sticking into one of the metal disks on the wall, and then it locks into place). In a plane, for example, with four seats in the middle and three seats on either side, there will typically be space for two bassinets in the middle (one bassinet in front of each of the two seats), and one bassinet on either side, allowing for four infants to have bassinets in the bulkhead of that section.
Flight attendants are responsible for attaching and detaching the infant bassinets. They are typically rectangular and made of cloth, and the flight attendant will usually fold an airplane blanket on the bottom of it for a soft cushion for baby. Most bassinets that I have seen also have two cloth flaps that cover much of the bassinet space and basically zip up over baby’s body (but does not cover the face area). This is technically supposed to remain zippered whenever baby is in the bassinet for safety purposes (E.g. in case of sudden turbulence).
When can the infant bassinets be used?
The infant bassinets in bulkhead are only attached after take-off once the fasten seat belts have been turned off, and are removed and stored before landing when the fasten seat belts go on again. Although they may be used for the duration of the flight, it is typically advised that baby be removed from the bassinet in case of turbulence or when the fasten seat belt sign is turned on. However, I have been on many flights where the fasten seat belt sign has been turned on and no flight attendant has asked me to remove baby from the bassinet (which is a huge relief, because that would have meant waking up my peacefully sleeping baby, only for the seat belt signs to be turned off two minutes later).
Are there height/ weight limitations and restrictions to using the infant bassinets?
Yes, there are, and every airline is different, so it is wise to check the specific requirements of the airline you are flying. In general, many airlines have a maximum weight capacity of around 25 pounds/ height 30 inches, but it does vary. Some have age limitations; when we flew one airline when Veda was 7 months old, for example, they automatically told us that she was too old for a bassinet. In general, if your baby is under 6 months old, unless you have a real beast on your hands, you’ll be able to use the bassinet. If you are flying with an infant-in-lap with a 22 month old (or even a 12- 18 month old), you might be in dicey territory.
You might also want to check the dimensions of the bassinet to assess if your baby will be comfortable in the bassinet or not. Even if the airline allows your child to use it, he/she may not fit that well. When Veda was 14 months old (24 pounds and 30″) I did use a bassinet on a long flight. She was too long and her legs stuck out, but I just put a little airline pillow under her legs so she was comfortable, albeit with her legs at an incline. She slept peacefully and comfortably like that for hours, but many babies may not sleep so well in cramped quarters. Either way, you can always try the bassinet out if you have a bulkhead seat, and if it doesn’t work it makes a great extra space to throw toys, etc.
How do I request an infant bassinet in bulkhead?
Some airlines allow you, and expect you, to request an infant bassinet seat in advance. Most airlines do not guarantee that your request will result in being granted an infant bassinet seat. Some airlines are much better at accommodating requests than others (E.g. Etihad takes requests in advance and I have had good-luck in being accommodated, whereas Delta requires you to request an infant bassinet at the boarding gate, and I have never been accommodated, nor have I seen other families with infants accommodated with a bassinet on their international flights).
If there are lots of infants and families on flights, there will be more competition for the bassinet/ bulkhead seats. Some airlines will grant the seats on a first come, first serve basis, so it’s always a good idea to arrive at the airport as early as possible to try and secure a bulkhead seat.
Check with the specific airline that you are flying to see if you can request (typically by phone or email) an infant bassinet in the bulkhead if that is your preference. We typically choose to give our business to airlines that allow requests that accommodate families to be made in advance.
If I am flying with an infant but purchased a separate seat for him/ her, can I still use the infant bassinet in the bulkhead?
Sure, why not? If the airline allows it and you are able to secure a bulkhead seat, there is no reason you shouldn’t also be able to use the bassinet if you wish. However, just make sure to check the size of your car seat against the size of the space in each bulkhead seats. Unlike the rest of the seats on the plane where the armrest moves up to allow more space for bigger car seats if needed, the bulkhead seat armrests are fixed (this is typically where the trays and personal television screens are stored in the bulkhead seats). This means that if you happen to have a larger car seat, and happen to be seated in the bulkhead, you might face a logistical predicament when you find that you can’t actually secure the car seat to baby’s seat.
Should I request an aisle or a window seat in the bulkhead?
I always request an aisle seat- when I am traveling alone, when pregnant, or infant-in-lap. With a small child, you will be getting up and down frequently. On my last 15 hour + international flight I was sitting in the middle bulkhead and had to stand up with my toddler at least twenty times (to stretch, play, walk and rock baby, diaper change, etc.). I felt bad for the man that was trying to sleep the entire flight that I had to wake every time I came and went, but I had no choice. It sucks for them, and it sucks for us. I highly recommend requesting an aisle seat wherever you are seated so you can stand up and sit down as needed with ease. The thing is, for some reason they often try to put infant-in-lap passengers in the middle or window seats, so it’s sometimes a struggle. Be persistent- your flight will be much more enjoyable. If you are traveling with a car seat, though, many airlines do require the car seat to be placed in the window seat (or the middle seat if in the middle of the plane).
What are the disadvantages to the infant bassinets in bulkhead?
There are cases when you might not want a bulkhead seat. If, for example, you are flying with a couple of children, it might be nice to be in seats where you can raise the arm rest to allow an older child to lay on your lap. My husband and I have also sat on flights with two seats on either side of the plane. We lifted the arm rest up and baby slept comfortably across both our laps. Another disadvantage to the bulkhead is, as mentioned before, some car seats will not fit into the seats if you are using a car seat on the flight. Yet another disadvantage is that the tray folds across your lap, rather than in front of you. I have had times when baby was sleeping on me rather than in the bassinet, when the food service came around. It’s much easier to fit me and baby with a tray folding out (perhaps half way) in front of me, rather than trying to squeeze a tray over my lap where my baby is (in those cases my food tray ends up in the bassinet or on the floor in front of me until I can get to it).
Lastly, if you want a very quiet space for baby to sleep, expect other families with small children to also be in the bulkhead- sometimes right next to you. I have experienced very frustrating flights where my baby was trying to sleep but another baby right next to us kept crying and screaming, which disrupted and woke my baby (and me), which made for an exhausting flight as I had to continuously work to keep my baby asleep. Also, people will likely be standing and walking near you frequently as you will probably be close to the lavatory and kitchen area, so it may be a higher traffic/ louder area for that reason, as well. If you want a quiet place, you might opt for a row toward the back away from where a lot of other babies might be in the bulkhead.