Thousands of British travellers rushed to return home from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Friday before a flight ban came into force.
Social media influencers and models are among those affected by the decision to ban direct flights from the UAE from 1pm.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the policy at 5pm on Thursday, giving travellers just 20 hours to make arrangements.
The measure is aimed at stopping the spread of the South African coronavirus variant.
Three flights from Dubai and two from Abu Dhabi landed at Heathrow before the 1pm curfew on Friday.
This included British Airways Flight 104 from Dubai, which touched down at 12.57pm.
One flight arrived at Manchester Airport from Abu Dhabi, one landed in Glasgow from Dubai and one touched down in Birmingham from Dubai.
The Gulf hubs are normally popular for people flying from Asia and Australasia to the UK on connecting flights.
Under the new rules, visitors from the UAE are banned from entering the UK.
British and Irish nationals and those with residence rights can still enter, but must self-isolate for 10 days at home.
Engineering assistant and influencer Klaudia Zakrzewska, who has 22,300 followers on Instagram, cut short a holiday with friends in Dubai to fly home to beat the deadline.
After landing at Heathrow, Ms Zakrzewska, 27, of Greenford, west London, said: “It was a complete mess. Flights got cancelled and we managed to get back on the last flight.”
She said “everyone was panicking” at her hotel as they rushed to leave.
Ms Zakrzewska said: “It was all just so confusing. There were no real guidelines about what to do and what was going on. We just suddenly were told that all the flights were going to stop at 1pm. We just thought, ‘Let’s not risk it and be stuck out here for months’.
“It has been stressful because it has all been so last-minute.
“People were packing in the corridors of our hotel and people were running to the airport and fighting for the last spots – it was like a movie.”
Make-up artist Lily Smith, of Canary Wharf, east London said she was happy to have scrambled on to the last flight to Heathrow before the curfew began.
After touching down, she said: “We had to book ourselves on the 7.45am flight, which was really packed.
“There was not any notice really. I had about 30 minutes to pack. It was terrible. I even had plans to extend because I wasn’t ready to come home but my plans have just gone straight into the bin.
“It has ruined everyone’s plans and the notice was just rubbish.”
Student Emma Rhodes, 21, flew into Birmingham as she returned from a two-week holiday.
Asked about criticism of people travelling abroad for non-business trips, she said: “I had personal reasons why I went, I needed some ‘me’ time.
“I do agree with what the Government have done but I understand why people have chosen to go (abroad) as well.”
Miss Rhodes boarded the “packed” flight to Birmingham, having originally been set to come home on a flight to Manchester which was cancelled.
She added: “I feel like now, I wouldn’t advise people to go (to Dubai) because things have changed; they don’t know if they’d get back, or have to pay for hotel quarantine.
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable going now, myself.”
From 1pm Fri 29 Jan, we’re extending our travel ban to the United Arab Emirates, Burundi and Rwanda.
Returning British, Irish and third-country nationals must self-isolate for 10 days at home upon their return.
— Dept for Transport #StayHomeSaveLives (@transportgovuk) January 28, 2021
Medical supplies retailer Khalid Mugher, 60, was on a business trip to Dubai that was cut short in the early hours.
After receiving a message from his son alerting him of the rule changes, he rebooked his flight and went to hospital to get a Covid test at 4am to enable him to enter the UK.
He said: “I had to go to the hospital at 4am to get my Covid test, which was a risk. I had to change flights and to pay extra money.
“I think it will be a long time before I can get to go back to Dubai but I think my life is more important than my business.
“Everyone was rushing.”
The Department for Transport advises British nationals still in the UAE to use “indirect commercial routes” to return home.
A number of influencers have visited the UAE in recent weeks despite the UK’s ban on leisure travel, insisting their trips are for work purposes.
This was criticised by Home Secretary Priti Patel, who claimed there are “still too many people coming in and out of our country each day”.
She said: “We see plenty of influencers on social media showing off about which parts of the world that they are in, mainly in sunny parts of the world.
“Going on holiday is not an exemption and it’s important that people stay at home.”