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The Worst Airline Fees of the Year

In this age of abundant airline fees, it takes a lot to be crowned the year’s worst. But these fees have what it takes.

Worst Fee, Not-Exactly-A-Fee Category: “Holiday Surcharges”

Holiday surcharges had everyone riled up this fall, and understandably so. While we’re accustomed to airlines jacking up prices for popular holiday travel dates, shady holiday surcharges of between $10 and $20 were not on our radar. The scheme allowed airlines to target specific dates for fare hikes without raising prices overall. And with surcharges already set for several dates in 2010, it’s clear they are here to stay.

Worst Fee, Let’s-Hope-It-Stays-Hypothetical Category: Pay-Per-Use Airline Bathrooms

There’s little to say that hasn’t already been said. Whether it was a shameless publicity stunt or a heartless business proposal, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary’s claim that he wanted to charge passengers to use the bathroom got our attention (and made some of us nauseous, which is sort of ironic). It’s unlikely O’Leary could legally charge for access to the bathroom even if he wanted to, but let’s hope we never have to find out.

Worst Fee, You-Have-Got-to-Be-Kidding-Me Category: Ryanair’s $50 First-Checked-Bag Fee

Oh look, it’s Ryanair again. Back in September, the airline implemented a $50 first-checked-bag fee in the hopes of deterring people from checking bags in the first place. Said Ryanair spokesman Stephen McNamara, “These baggage fees are all avoidable by all passengers who choose to travel with carry-on luggage only. Over 70% of Ryanair passengers will be totally unaffected by these changes as they already travel with just one carry-on bag, which is free of charge.”

 Worst Fee, International Category: $50 Second-Checked-Bag Fees

This trend grew throughout the year as airline after airline posted poor financial numbers. The fee is particularly painful for a simple and obvious reason: International trips tend to be long and require multiple bags, meaning the fee will affect a lot of travelers. Currently, American, British Airways, Continental, Delta, United, US Airways, and Virgin Atlantic charge between $45 and $60, depending on airline and whether you pay online or at the airport. Which brings us to our next category …

Worst Fee, You’d-Better-Have-Internet Category: Various Airlines’ Online Bag Fee Discounts

Even when the airlines try to do something nice, they manage to—oh, what am I saying? This spring, a handful of airlines—US Airways, United, Delta, and Continental—began offering discounts to passengers who paid their baggage fees online. But the discount wasn’t really a discount at all—these airlines simply added $5 to the cost of checking bags at the airport. The purpose was clear: Reduce the need for staff at airports by encouraging customers to pay the fee online. As an ancillary benefit, people without Internet access or know-how, or who simply aren’t aware of the online discount, get to pay full-price at the airport. Genius.

Worst Fee, Blatant Exploitation Category: Ryanair’s Check-In Fee

In October, Ryanair removed the last of its check-in desks, instituted a £5 online check-in fee, and assessed a £40 penalty to anyone who failed to check in online. Let that sink in for a moment. The airline added a mandatory fee for all customers, and implemented an exorbitant penalty for those who don’t pay it. And, in typical Ryanair fashion, the airline announced the new policy as unapologetically as possible: “The high fee is designed to encourage people to remember [to check in online],” a spokesperson said. “Hopefully they will only forget once.” I understand that times are tough and money is tight, but why anyone flies this airline is beyond me.

Worst Fee, Reader Submitted Category: You Tell Me

Now it’s your turn. Which fees announced this year really got on your nerves? Are there any that didn’t make my list? Leave a comment below with your Worst Fee of the Year and tell us why you chose it. Thanks!

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