The British Airline Pilots' Association is expected to opt for a highly damaging indefinite strike from 16 July following a 90 per cent vote for action. This would be the first major all-out strike since the industrial action by miners in 1984-85.
Both sides last night registered their readiness to enter negotiations.
BA said that it had drawn up "contingency" plans to operate as many flights as possible with the help of an estimated 20 per cent of flight crews who are not members of Balpa.
The strike vote came as London endured another 24-hour stoppage by tube drivers which closed two-thirds of the system. London Underground claimed that some members of Aslef, the train drivers' union, worked during the action. There were no signs that talks were imminent in an attempt to solve the dispute over working hours. Further walkouts are planned for next Monday and for 16 July, when the BA action could start.
Threats of industrial action also emerged in the "overground" rail network as the RMT transport union called ballots for strikes among its 9,000 members. The union is disputing productivity payments on the East Coast Mainline, Cross Country, Great Western, South Central, South Eastern Trains and Mersey Rail Electrics.
Negotiations over rest periods have broken down at Central Trains, Regional Railways, North London Railways, ScotRail, South Wales and West and Thames Trains.
At the Royal Mail, the postal executive at the Communication Workers Union is to decide today whether to press ahead with more 24-hour strikes.
The dispute at BA, however, is potentially the most serious because of the likely decision to call an all-out stoppage.
The airline has offered its 3,600 flight deck employees a 3.6 per cent pay increase this year and a rise of 0.5 per cent above inflation next year.
Lower-paid crews who operate out of Gatwick have been offered an additional 10 per cent, but the union is expected to reject the offer.
Management and union also clashed over the present pay of flight crews. Balpa put the average figure at pounds 50,000 a year, but the company said it was nearer pounds 75,000, withsenior pilots earning more than pounds 100,000.
Chris Darke, general secretary of Balpa, said the pilots were simply seeking the same deal as other BA employees. He pointed out that the 94 per cent turnout among the 3,000 Balpa members was among the highest ever recorded under the present legislation. Out of 2,980 ballot papers returned, 2,687 voted for a strike, with just 292 against.
Robert Ayling, chief executive of the airline, said action would not be in the interests of the union, its members, the customers or the country.
"It seems to us regrettable that a responsible union should use a threat to damage the interests of the company in order to pursue objectives which are not reasonable."
He said that some 60 per cent of BA passengers travelled for non-business purposes, and a stoppage would "seriously inconvenience a lot of people".Reuse content