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 (.DOC) last October, reminding airlines that they couldn’t cap their compensation, Delta allegedly distributed a pamphlet that said 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 said the carrier’s liability is capped at $25 per day “for necessities after the first 24 hours up to a maximum of USD 125 per ticketed customer” while a passenger is away from his or her permanent residence.

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 passengers who read the brochure may have been misled about their rights under the law.

The Enforcement Office believes that passengers who read the pamphlet may have been dissuaded from seeking reimbursement to which they were entitled. Moreover, in a number of instances in which passengers whose bags were delayed sought reimbursement, Delta applied the exclusions and limitations set forth 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.

Delta asserts that it had updated its baggage policy disclosures in its relevant informational pamphlets, distributed them to the field, and instructed all stations to substitute the new pamphlets by the January deadline established by the Department’s guidance on this subject.

Delta further instructed its stations to destroy the outdated pamphlets. Delta states that any distribution of outdated pamphlets or application of a flat per diem cap in the processing of a baggage claim violated Delta policy, and affected only a tiny fraction of the millions of passengers served by Delta.

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 be surprised.