How one woman fought British Airways for a refund - and what her win could mean for you

Jennie Barber took British Airways to court to convert her travel voucher issued during Covid-19 to a cash refund - and won. Credit: PA

By Suzanne Elliott, Multimedia Producer

A woman who single-handedly took on British Airways in court and beat them after discovering a little known 80-year-old legislation to claim a Covid travel refund hopes her "David and Goliath" story will help others win their money back.

Jennie Barber was one of millions of travellers who had their flights cancelled during the pandemic when countries closed their borders and travel restrictions grounded planes around the world.

Three years and hours of swotting up on law books in the library and a court case later, Ms Barber finally got a refund for the two flights to Japan she had booked with British Airways in January 2020.

Jennifer Barber spent a year 'hounding' BA for a refund before dusting off her law books.

Ms Barber, who was due to jet off that May, said she was faced with a "non-choice" as the UK went into lockdown and Japan closed its borders, and requested the travel vouchers BA had offered.

She told ITV News it felt like the "smarter choice" at the time.

As the pandemic rolled on, Ms Barber, still unable to use her vouchers, began to fight for her money back.

Japan would not lift all of its Covid travel restrictions until November 2022.

"The first time I contacted BA to say 'Hey, I want my money' was December of 2020," she told ITV News.

"Their response was 'no, you wanted the voucher. You asked for it. So that's what you've got'."

Jennie was meant to be flying to Japan in May 2020. Credit: AP

Ms Barber, from Birmingham, said she spent a year "hounding" BA for her refund.

"I went to the Competition and Markets Authority; I wrote to my MP; I wrote to theCivil Aviation Authority, I went through the CEDR, who are the arbitrationpeople, and I lost at arbitration they found in BA's favour.

"But I was still annoyed. I thought, you know if it was illegal to travel, why does my moneyget to sit with BA when it's not my fault. It was at that point that I really started questioning whether there was anything I could do to satisfy my curiosity and stop being so annoyed at BA for holding on to so much of my money."

In January 2022, Ms Barber, who studied law at A-level nearly two decades before, dusted down her library card and began trawling through law books.

"I don't have a law degree. I got an A-level at college 19 years ago. I'm not a legal professional," she said. After weeks of looking through consumer law books, Ms Barber finally had her "eureka!" moment when she stumbled upon a piece of contract legislation from the 1940s.

The Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Act 1943 states that if you make a contract and it is then illegal to perform that contract afterwards, then it is null and void.

"I thought on the face of it, that should be a win, but then when you're going up against someone like British Airways, and god knows how many solicitors and lawyers they've got, there was a really big part of me that thought I could still lose, they could still find something.

"But I did think I had a really, really good point, I did have a bit of a eureka moment when I found it."

Ms Barber said she cried when the judge made her ruling at Redditch Magistrates Court in January 2023.

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She was awarded the sum of £2,523.42 to cover flights, interest up to the date of judgment and costs."I was so proud and I was so happy. I did a little dance to the security guard when I left the court."

British Airways said: "We were the first UK airline to offer customers the unprecedented flexibility to change their plans during the pandemic by providing them with vouchers for future travel. 

"Customers can use these vouchers up until September 2023 to give them as much time as possible to re-schedule their trips."

Covid-19 restrictions for travellers varied depending on the country. Credit: PA

What can you do if you want to exchange vouchers for cash?

Ms Barber's success could make it easier for others still holding travel vouchers they may never get to use before September's deadline to claim a refund.

Michael Frisby, Partner at Stevens & Bolton, said: “Airlines will doubtless sit up and take notice of this action recognising that others may follow Ms Barber’s example on an individual basis.

"What will concern them even more is that today’s decision might prompt group litigation, whereby a group of individuals group together to bring claims or an individual brings a class action on behalf of all affected potential claimants.” 

“This is a classic case of David versus Goliath. But, whilst Ms Barber has done well to stand her ground, today’s outcome is also a reflection of the county court system working as it should for either individuals or small businesses making smaller claims.”

Ms Barber would advise people to challenge British Airways but warns going to court is expensive and "stressful".

Ms Barber has set up her own Facebook group to advise others in the same situation to manage the number of queries she is getting about my case, named ‘British Airways - Covid Travel Voucher Refunds.’