British Airways managers and union leaders will meet today in an attempt to avert threatened strikes by cabin crew which could cost £100m in lost revenue.
The two sides failed to meet yesterday despite the imminence of the industrial action which would ground most of the airline's flights from Monday. But the company has contacted the conciliation service Acas in an attempt to settle the dispute over sickness absence, pay and staffing.
City analysts estimated the potential blow to BA at between £10m and £15m a day if the 11,000 staff members carry through their plans for three 72-hour strikes. The union denied it was seeking to exclude conditions such as colds, cold sores, blocked ears and even ingrowing toenails from counting as sick leave.
The BA chief executive, Willie Walsh, said a strike would be "completely unnecessary and unjustified".
Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary at the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) said it was time for BA to "start listening and stop lecturing." He said: "The reality in BA is that workers who are sick come to work because they fear the consequences and that cannot be right."
The airline said the demands being made by the T&G would add £37m to the company's costs and lead to pay rises of up to 18 per cent. The union warned of further stoppages in February unless there is a deal.
BA said it would allow customers booked to fly between 29 January and 16 February to change the date because of the prospect of disruption.