An Irish woman who was among hundreds struck in Heathrow Airport last night has described the "pandemonium" of people trying to board a flight home for Christmas.
A 48-hour ban on flights and passenger ferries from Britain has been implemented in response to the rapid spread of a new strain of COVID-19 in parts of England.
Videos emerged on social media yesterday evening of crowds queuing in the London airport as they tried to board the 8.55pm Aer Lingus flight to Dublin.
An extra plane was arranged to accommodate the group of around 300 people who were stranded after an apparent overbooking of the original flight.
Rachael, who was one of those trying to get home for Christmas before the travel ban came into effect, described the chaotic scenes.
She told Lunchtime Live that she booked the flight at around 3pm yesterday afternoon through British Airways.
When she arrived at the airport, she was told that British Airways had overbooked the flight, so she and around 50 others went to a different terminal to seek information.
They were told there was "no way" they would be getting on the plane, and instead would be put up in a hotel while they awaited a flight to an "unknown European destination".
At around 8.30pm, it was announced that a new flight would be arranged, and Rachael arrived into Dublin just after midnight.
Rachael said she "didn't feel terribly safe" among the huge queues of people in Heathrow, with "panic" and "pandemonium" at the airport.
An exodus of Irish trying to get to Dublin, @British_Airways overbooked the 20:55 @AerLingus flight from Heathrow. Heading to T5 for answers pic.twitter.com/CbHNBCyvsi
— Rachael Scully (@RachaelScullyyo) December 20, 2020
'There's no right decision'
Stefan, who has also arrived home in Ireland for Christmas, said he experienced similar queues and crowds when he booked a last-minute flight on Tuesday.
He said last night's flight was "overbooked to the tune of 300 people" and it was "an entire flight's worth of people" who weren't able to board.
There were queues to get into Heathrow, at the check in desk, and also on the train platform as around 100 people tried to get from Terminal 2 to Terminal 5 to seek answers from the airline.
On whether it was "selfish" of people in the UK to travel to Ireland given the current state of the pandemic, Stefan said it's up to people have to make their own decisions within the guidelines.
He added that he has already spent four weeks this year isolating after travel and he will be doing the same over Christmas.
He said: "There's no right decision, people have to make decisions for themselves and make their own sacrifices."
Scenes currently at @HeathrowAirport! Hundreds of passengers awaiting communication from @British_Airways regarding overbooking of #Dublin flights this evening! #Heathrow #britishairways #aerlingus @rtenews @SkyNews #gettinghome https://t.co/dRJIRiGafo pic.twitter.com/ac0zMT8ybV
— Emma (@EmmaEgan1) December 20, 2020
Erica, who flew out of Heathrow this morning, said she saw "an absolutely huge, neverending queue" that staff "didn't seem to be able to manage" when she went to the airport last night.
She and the others who booked via British Airways weren't able to check in online, so all those passengers were sent to Terminal 5 which was "chaotic" and with "no social distancing" taking place.
Erica said: "It was just madness, we had no idea what was going on.
"A lot of people were crying, even as I was coming from Terminal 2 I saw a girl who was shaking and crying because she heard she wasn't going to be able to get on.
"It was the same scenario in Terminal 5, a lot of people were upset, it was fairly emotional and stressful."
Erica was then told that she and others would have to fly into Belfast and stay at a hotel at Heathrow while they waited to fly out this morning.