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Which Airlines Are Fee-Crazy, and Which Are Not?

It’s becoming an old debate nowadays, one we’ve covered before (and about which you’ve had plenty to say), but it’s still interesting to me when someone tries to sort out the airline fee mess and determine which carriers are the worst offenders. That’s exactly what The Consumerist did, and the results surprised me a little.

First of all, what didn’t surprise me was the four airlines deemed “most fee-crazy”: US Airways, United, and American in a third-place tie. These airlines have led the charge on first-checked-bag fees and pay-as-you-go in-flight beverages.

Determining the winners, however, is a trickier task. Sure, Southwest is an easy choice, with its sparse fees and pledge to remain fee-free while other airlines rack up the extra charges. Beyond Southwest, however, pretty much all airlines have implemented some amount of new fees. Is any one of these other carriers appreciably different from another?

The Consumerist thinks so, and places AirTran just behind Southwest in the top three “least fee-crazy” carriers, saying that while AirTran does charge fees, those fees are generally less than its competitors’. The same argument is made for JetBlue, third on this list, despite the airline’s recent decision to charge for onboard pillows and blankets (admittedly a popular move among the crowd).

The list reaffirms what most of us have already concluded: When it comes to fees, there’s Southwest, and there’s everyone else. Among “everyone else,” however, we find shades of gray in the form of carriers that aren’t quite as fee-happy as others. Southwest doesn’t fly everywhere (yet), so we will sometimes be left to choose the lesser of two (or more) evils.

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