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Cancellations and delayed test results send holiday travelers into tailspin

United and Delta have had to cancel hundreds of flights over Christmas Eve and Christmas day, citing staff shortages in flights crews and operations due to omicron.

ARLINGTON, Va. — McLean resident Merenda Tate of McLean had a very narrow window for holiday travel this year, flying into Charlotte, North Carolina on Christmas Eve and returning home on Sunday. But ultimately she had to weigh the value of seeing her family with mounting flight cancellations that could put her return in jeopardy. 

Family won.

"It is a big concern because I have to come back and come to work,"
 Tate said, while waiting in line at Reagan National Airport. "I'll hope for the best. With my father being elderly, I want to see him. When you get the opportunity to lay your eyes on your loved ones, it's worth it."

As of Monday morning, however, delays and cancellations persist.

The flight tracker Flight Aware reports more than 700 cancellations of flights into, out of, and within the United States as of 6:00 a.m., including a handful at both Reagan and Dulles airports.

Tate was far from alone in her "hope for the best" strategy. The crowds, and lines, were never-ending at DCA on Christmas Eve, and many travelers said they were choosing optimism, sticking to their flight plans even though they're concerned their return flights could be canceled. 

United and Delta canceled nearly 10% of their Christmas Eve schedule, citing staff shortages due to the omicron variant. Both carriers have apologized to travelers for the shortages.

RELATED: Hundreds of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day flights canceled amid omicron surge

International travelers have also reported struggling with PCR test turnaround times. The crush of demand for testing has delayed results, leaving passengers in limbo at the airport.

Mabel LaRosa, for example, says she's been waiting on her test results from Kaiser Permanente since Wednesday. Sitting at the airport on Christmas Eve, two hours away from her flight to see family in Uruguay, she had no idea if she'd get the results in time.

"I'm waiting here until the test result is coming," she said. "And then they’ll decide what happens to me."

The cancellations come as COVID cases increase in the DMV.

In D.C., public health data shows the weekly case rate at close to 1,200 per 100,000 as of Wednesday, as opposed to a little more than 100 a month ago.

Virginia’s dashboard shows cases have increased in December.

In Maryland – on Christmas day – the state showed a 7-day moving average case rate of about 100 as opposed to about 15 a month ago.

When it comes to travel, President Biden's chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said he would welcome a vaccine mandate for airline passengers but that current precautions make flying pretty safe.

"I mean, I think if you look at wearing a mask and the filtration on planes, things are reasonably safe," he said. "We want to make sure people keep their masks on. I think the idea of taking masks off in my mind is really not something we should even be considering. That's what we meant by it depends on what the goal of getting people vaccinated before they get on a domestic flight."

RELATED: To grandmother's house or no? Omicron disrupts holiday plans

RELATED: Tips for achieving worry-free travel in another pandemic winter

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