It's no surprise that the airline best at avoiding silly fees is Southwest, which came into the business after deregulation and kept its expenses low from the start. Yet it's not completely innocent either. Southwest charges a baggage fee for three bags and over, and it has lately been rolling out new fees for preferential spots on the boarding line.
In any case, the airlines are being fundamentally dishonest by quoting fares in one place and then piling up fees, some of them entirely unexpected. The service you buy with the basic fare shrinks all the time.
Meals, not that they were ever four-star, are a thing of the past, and pillows and blankets on many carriers have gone the way of the eephus pitch in major league baseball. (The "Power-Nap Sack" — pillow, blanket, eyeshade and earplugs — is $7 on US Airways.)
I've noticed that it's become harder than ever to get a seat assignment online when buying a ticket. Tell me that doesn't have something to do with the airlines' fees for aisle seats, window seats, front seats, etc., etc. Numerous airlines charge for extra legroom, or for a seat about as comfortable as the standard prevailing years in the past. On some carriers, it's almost as if the basic fare guarantees you only the right to gnaw on your kneecaps for four hours in the back of the plane.
The only rhyme or reason to most of these fees is to probe the limit of what airline passengers will tolerate. There doesn't seem to be much of a limit, because the airlines are smart enough to add fees incrementally. When no one kicked too much at a fee for checking a second bag, the industry was emboldened to charge for the first bag. When no one complained at the loss of an inch of legroom, passengers lost two inches, then three. Then they started having to pay $10 or $25 to get those inches back.
One Ryanair passenger responded to the threat of onboard pay toilets by saying he would pay his euro, then hold the door open for the next passenger in line. He had the right idea. If passengers band together, they can move mountains.
And if passengers don't put their feet down now, this trend will never end.
Michael Hiltzik's column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, read past columns at latimes.com/hiltzik, check out facebook.com/hiltzik, and follow @latimeshiltzik on Twitter.