Delta fined $100,000 for misleading baggage brochure

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By Christopher Elliott

Federal law says an airline can’t limit its liability for lost, damaged or delayed baggage to less than $3,300 per passenger. But if you’re flying on Delta Air Lines, you might have thought otherwise.

Even after the Transportation Department issued an industry notice last October, reminding airlines that they couldn’t cap their compensation. Delta allegedly distributed a pamphlet stating that it “will not authorize any expense reimbursement” when a passenger’s delayed baggage is expected to reach the passenger within 24 hours.

The brochure also stated that the carrier limits its liability to $25 per day. This is “for necessities after the first 24 hours, up to a maximum of USD 125 per ticketed customer,” while the passenger is away from their permanent residence.

Claims regarding baggage reimbursement practices

The government has fined Delta $100,000 for distributing the brochure months after its advisory. Here’s the consent order (.PDF).

The Transportation Department claims that the brochure may have misled passengers about their rights under the law.

The Enforcement Office believes that the pamphlet might have discouraged entitled passengers from seeking reimbursement. Additionally, in several instances where passengers with delayed bags sought reimbursement, Delta enforced the exclusions and limitations outlined in the pamphlet.

In its consent order, the DOT reaffirmed that Delta “may not limit its liability for provable direct or consequential damages relating to lost, damaged, or delayed baggage to less than $3,300 per passenger.”

What does Delta have to say for itself? The airline claims some stations failed to destroy old brochures.

The uncommon excuse in airline practices

Delta asserts that it had updated its baggage policy disclosures in its relevant informational pamphlets. It distributed them to the field. Delta also instructed all stations to substitute the new pamphlets by the January deadline. The deadline was established by the Department’s guidance on this subject. (Related: There’s something “odd” about this lost-luggage claim.)

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It further instructed its stations to destroy the outdated pamphlets. Delta states that any distribution of outdated pamphlets or application of a flat per diem cap in the processing of a baggage claim violated Delta policy. It affected only a tiny fraction of the millions of passengers served by Delta. (Here’s what you need to know if an airline loses your luggage.)

That’s an excuse you don’t see every day.

Moral of the story? If an airline tells you what your rights are under federal law, do yourself a favor and look up the law for yourself.

You might surprise yourself.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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