Airlines collected $7.1 billion last year in fees on bags and flight changes.

WASHINGTON – Airlines collected a record $7 billion last year in fees on baggage and flight changes, reflecting a steady rise in those fees since 2010, according to a government report Wednesday.

The $7.1 billion compares to $6.3 billion in 2010, in dollars adjusted for inflation, according to the Government Accountability Office. Consumer advocates complain that the growing fees make it tougher to compare prices, even as airlines say the fees cover choices are part the competition between carriers.

The 54-page GAO report found:

♦ On average, customers who paid for at least one checked bag ended up paying more for combined airfare and fees than they did when prices were bundled and included baggage.

♦ Consumer groups say optional fees can’t always be paid when buying a ticket, leaving surprises for travelers at the airport.

♦ Department rules have made optional fees more transparent, but consumer groups say it can still be difficult for travelers to know what fees they face when buying tickets through online travel agents.

“Going to an airline check-in counter should not result in a last-minute shakedown,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who requested the study. “It’s time for the airlines to stop run-away fees.”

William McGee, an aviation adviser to Consumer Reports, said travelers searching for an airline ticket should be told the full price up front including all the fees, whether the airline or a travel agent is selling the ticket.

“Consumers should be able to shop for airline seats without being nickel-and-dimed, and without getting hit with post-purchase sticker shock,” McGee said.

But the trade group Airlines for America, which represents most of the largest carriers, said the GAO report underscored that travelers have more choices among carriers and among amenities than ever before.

“U.S. carriers offer both all-inclusive and a la carte products, as well as price points that range from first-class to budget-friendly travel ensuring that flying is affordable and accessible to all,” the group said.

The rising fees coincided with a profitable airline industry each year since 2010. Airlines reported $15.6 billion in…