I recently found myself in a bind while trying to get home from Chile. A canceled flight on LATAM led to a botched ticket reissue on our connection to Delta. And a now impossibly tight connection in Santiago without a connecting boarding pass. The attempted fix ultimately didn’t work, but I found that Delta chat support works surprisingly well in a pinch.
Cancellation Shenanigans on LATAM
These flights made up a larger trip involving an expedition cruise with my family through Patagonia. I’ll have a review of the cruise up soon, but suffice to say, I found it incredible. Our cruise ended in Punta Arenas, Chile, a good three hours by air south of Santiago. To get home, I booked flights months in advance through Delta, with a connection on LATAM to Santiago. Though I preferred to catch American’s nonstop from Santiago to Dallas, separate tickets coming from a small outstation seemed like a really bad idea. So we booked the single ticket on Delta instead.
I originally booked the tickets with a ~3 hour connection in Santiago. Remarkably, the schedule held from July. But literally the day before our scheduled departure (like, an hour after getting off the ship), LATAM canceled our flight and rebooked us on an impossibly tight connection:
Yes, technically, minimum connect time in Santiago on a through ticket is 90 minutes. With a kid in tow, though, this seemed really unlikely to work. I looked at moving to an earlier flight, but LATAM showed no availability. So I decided to just take my chances.
Problems Checking In
The first sign of trouble popped up a few hours later, when I tried to check in online with LATAM. I got most of the way through the process, but it errored out at the very end. I thought little of it at the time. A quick search suggested frequent issues with LATAM online check-in for those flying to the US. I instead tried going through the Delta app, but oddly, when redirecting me to LATAM for the first leg, the LATAM website couldn’t pull up the reservation at all.
In hindsight, I should have called Delta right then to check if there was a problem. But I foolishly decided to deal with it at the airport the next day instead. I figured the Delta app might pull up boarding passes after checking in at the counter.
A Complete Fustercluck at Punta Arenas Airport
Punta Arenas (PUQ) is a small outstation, but one that handles a fair amount of tourist traffic. As a jumping off point for Patagonia and Antarctic expeditions, it handles multiple flights a day to Santiago. With a flight not scheduled until evening, we took a tour of Fuerte Bulnes, a 19th century fort and nature park about an hour south of town. The park provides excellent views of the Straits of Magellan (just bear in mind, it gets extremely windy).
Our guide brought us back to the airport around 3 pm, plenty of time before a 6:35 departure. We try to check in at a kiosk, but our LATAM confirmation number brings up nothing. Uh oh, not good. So we joined the line, and waited 25 minutes for the agent to serve the guy ahead of us. Then it took her another 25 to take care of us. Including needing to “call Santiago” about an issue. Well, that doesn’t sound good at all. She got it sorted out, but said she couldn’t print boarding passes for our Delta flight.
No problem, I thought. With the LATAM portion completed, I thought the Delta app could give us passes for those flights. But I got the same error about needing to check-in with LATAM for the first leg. Thinking it was a time lag in updating across systems, we headed upstairs to eat.
Delta Chat Support To The Rescue – Sort Of
The problem, though, is that even an hour later, I still had no luck with the Delta app. Rather than take more chances, I decided to try and call Delta to investigate the problem. WiFi at the airport wasn’t great, so the chance of getting through a 20-minute call seemed slim. But then I remembered the “Message Us” option in the More tab/Contact Us section.
I used to have pretty good luck with Delta’s Twitter support, so I clicked the link and gave it a try. I typed a quick explanation of what I needed, and the bot then provided a link to log in to my SkyMiles account.
The bot then quickly provided an option to message a representative, and put me in the queue.
Though it suggested a 5-minute wait, a representative came on in less time than that. And quickly diagnosed the problem. Apparently, LATAM failed to reissue the ticket properly.
The representative fixed that problem, but it unfortunately didn’t fix mine. The app still wouldn’t recognize my check-in. So she went to work again, and we headed through security while I waited for a response.
A bit later, she came back on to report that the problem as only partially fixable. Turns out, I made a grave mistake by checking in, because now nobody could undo that action. Initially, there was some confusion about whether the agent verified our passports and through-checked our bags. I cleared that up quickly by attaching a photo of our baggage claim tags. Unfortunately, though, the only way to fix the problem was to either go back to the check-in counter, or take care of it in Santiago. With only 5 minutes to go before boarding, we had to take our chances in Santiago.
An Ultimately Unsuccessful Resolution, But…
Ultimately, this would have all gone for naught anyway, even if the chat rep managed to get us boarding passes. The flight ended up leaving 50 minutes late, and even while trying to run through SCL with a 7-year old, it took nearly half an hour to get to the international ticket counters. In other words, 5 minutes after the boarding door closed. Surprisingly, even though weather (strong winds) caused the delay, LATAM rebooked us and paid for a hotel. And I managed to book a nonstop flight to DFW the next day to get us home earlier. So it could have been worse.
In the end, Delta chat support didn’t actually resolve the problem successfully. So why did I say it works surprisingly well? Because it’s still far better than dealing with phone support. The chat bot connected me to a representative fairly quickly. And it did so without having to deal with those infernal phone trees, or the even more infernal “interactive voice recognition” prompts that can’t actually figure out what you need half the time. The next day, I tried calling from the hotel to check if I could get a refund for canceling. And said infernal interactive voice response system wouldn’t recognize the PNR to even get me to a representative. Which led me to try chat support again, which answered my question and processed the cancellation in about 5 minutes.
With all that said, Delta chat support proved surprisingly useful. It’s worth a try if you find yourself unable to call, or you just get tired of trying to navigate the phone tree.