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Background information:

During a recent Air France flight, I had a very unexpected situation: at the counter I was informed that my baggage to be checked was below the minimum weight, which is of 5 kg.

I had never heard of the existence of a minimum weight for checked luggage, and I've not been able to find any information about it on their website.

According to the employee on the counter, this limit exists to "prevent damage to the luggage". I've been forced to put extra objects in my checked baggage to meet this minimum weight. Still, the baggage ticket I was given contained the term "LIMITED RELEASE".

I had never seen this term, and I surely have not been informed about it by the employee. I expected that meeting the required 5kg would be enough to enable my baggage to be considered as standard.

I find it extremely annoying that they are allowed to simply stick this "limited release" term without warning.

Actual question:

What are the conditions for a piece of baggage to be considered limited release? Can the airline simply label any baggage this way? And what are its consequences? Does it minimize the airline responsibility in any way?

Note that, on the way back, I put more stuff in the baggage so it was way above the minimum required, and this time they did not add the "limited release".

Edit: It's worse than I thought. I've just been to Orly again, on the same flight, and both my bags (standard hard-case luggage, within the weight limits) got tagged with limited release. Then I asked the counter lady what it meant. She didn't know, and then she asked her supervisor, and then I later asked 3 more people (two from Air France and one from Iberia), all of which gave me the same answer: they claimed that, at least in Orly, this is standard for everyone, for all flights and companies, and it means nothing. Why then put it on the ticket? No one could answer, not even the people responsible for baggage inquiries, and I had a plane to catch so I couldn't keep asking on. I invite you to do it if you ever have some spare time. I'm not convinced they would simply write it out for no reason, so it must somehow benefit them. Otherwise they might just do like for the return flight, where there was no such mention.

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The answers below are good, but just to underline the point: the sticker in itself are meaningless. If you haven't confirmed any additional conditions by signing, the standard terms and conditions apply. –  jpatokal Aug 8 at 12:42

2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Here's my limited understanding of limited release :) Baggage is basically divided into 3 categories: baggage that the airline will accept, baggage that it will not accept based on its rules, and baggage that it will only accept if you agree to "limited release": I.e. they will only accept the piece of baggage if you agree, in writing, to release the airline from liability for your baggage.

The release is "limited" only to a specific condition - i.e. if there was a problem because of the weight of your bag, they wouldn't be liable, but if they misrouted your baggage and it ended up on the other end of the globe, they would still be responsible - it's not a "complete" release.

In any case, when they want limited release, they will generally make you sign something (generally there's space for it on the luggage tag). If you didn't sign anything and they just marked it "limited release" by themselves, I doubt it has any effect - perhaps they wanted you to sign it, but then changed their mind when you added more weight to the bag?

But of course I'm not a lawyer, and all this could depend on the laws of the country where you're flying, etc, so take all this with a grain of salt. Perhaps there are some places where an airline can just decide on "limited release" based on e.g. some fine print in the contract of carriage that gives it the right to do so, even without your signature.

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"Perhaps they wanted you to sign it, but then changed their mind when you added more weight to the bag?" This indeed would be a reasonable explanation. –  dhekir Aug 5 at 21:01
    
Well, so much for optimism, I guess... I edited the question to add information about my other flight, in which both luggages were considered limited release by default. –  dhekir Aug 8 at 12:31
    
Sometimes all luggage tags have "Limited release" printed on them with a little box to check next to it (and sometimes other boxes to check like "overweight luggage", "improperly packed", etc) - but if the box isn't checked then it's not limited-release. Are you sure that's not what happened here? –  Eugene O Aug 8 at 22:06
    
No, there's no box nearby, it's written on the first line, I'll try and take pictures to compare my both tickets, with and without the phrase. –  dhekir Aug 9 at 2:03

Limited Releases are applied to baggage that the airline considers to be at higher risk for damage during flights and transfers. They often apply it to large sporting goods, fragile items, poorly packed items, all ready damaged items and others.

Due to the low weight of your bag vs its size, they likely were afraid that it would be fragile and therefore subject to being damaged. The lightness could contribute to the risk of it getting knocked out of automated baggage conveyor systems, blown off luggage carts and run over, etc.

Ultimately once they have marked your baggage with a limited release, they won't cover damage of any sort, but as Eugene mentioned, they do cover complete loss. Very few get you to sign the release anymore even though the space is there, and while perhaps a good lawyer could pick it apart in court, one has to figure if is it worth the cost of a good lawyer to claim back a few hundred for your damaged baggage.

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I find it ultimately abusive, since they decided it on their own, without warning (I contacted them and so far they have not been able to tell me how I was supposed to know about the existence of such a minimum weight), and despite my attitude trying to comply with their rules. I can only hope this question will help bring awareness to this issue, so that passengers may be able to complain if they see this "limited release" line. –  dhekir Aug 5 at 21:03
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@dhekir - To Air France? Forget it. –  pnuts Aug 5 at 21:10

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