What was once hoped to be a relatively normal holiday season has become anything but, with people cancelling holiday get-togethers and long-awaited vacations because of a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Mark Randle and his girlfriend had planned to take a Caribbean cruise, leaving from New York City just weeks after Christmas. A belated milestone gift for them both, and something to look forward to when they booked the trip last spring.
They remained cautiously optimistic well into November, but as the "Omicron wave", as he calls it, took hold, and officials once again warned against non-essential travel, they chose to cancel those long-awaited plans.
"We are heeding the advice of the medical profession, our politicians and our leaders and we're using our own common sense and saying, 'you know what? as much as we were looking forward to this holiday, it's not the right time to go,'" Randle said.
While he's confident in their decision, it wasn't an easy one for the couple who used to travel multiple times a year.
"We feel like we're in a desert. We feel like we've had to completely pivot our lives to accommodate obviously the best decisions for our health."
They've also put a shorter holiday plan to visit family in Toronto on hold.
That's something Miranda Gray also decided to do over fears of potentially contracting and passing along the virus to her mother.
"If I could have done maybe a rapid test every day in advance and a rapid test every day I was there, that'd be one thing, but realistically, if I caught it on the train, I would expose her to it before I knew I had it," she said.
'Pack your patience'
For those still planning to jet set over the holidays, the Ottawa International Airport Authority is urging travellers to give themselves plenty of time to move through the terminal and have all their documents, including proof of vaccination, readily available.
"We know that it's a stressful time already. The pandemic is causing a lot more stress, the holidays are stressful for many," said Krista Kealey, vice-president of communications and public affairs with Ottawa International Airport Authority.
"Pack your patience, pack more patience and everybody let's all be kind together."
But she warned people not to pack wrapped gifts before going through security.
She said while there's significantly fewer people travelling this year — around 3,300 a day compared to pre-pandemic holiday travel levels that could reach upwards of 8,500 a day — people should still expect lines.
The airport is dealing with staff shortages, both leftover from the pandemic travel drought and because new restrictions mean anyone who tests positive as well as their close contacts must isolate for 10 days.
As of Thursday, there were five employees across various companies at the airport who had tested positive for the illness just in the past week. Previously, the airport had only five employees test positive since the start of the pandemic.