The strike call came after the failure of five hours of peace talks yesterday.
Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, said the management had not responded sufficiently in efforts to resolve the dispute over wages and conditions for Gatwick staff. 'There is a clear decision by our members to take industrial action,' he said. Members will walk out at midnight but earlier flights this evening could be affected.
Members of the British Air Line Pilots' Association have been balloted on strike action over the same issue. The result is expected later this week.
Tonight's strike will involve key staff from tug drivers who push aircraft on to the runway to baggage handlers and cabin stewards.
An earlier stoppage over the May Bank Holiday was confined to flights from Gatwick but the union fears inferior conditions for staff at that airport could spread.
The TGWU was confident that BA would face great difficulty in maintaining any sort of service. Company contingency plans involve booking passengers on alternative airlines but delays are inevitable on flights to popular destinations, particularly as the strike is on a Friday.
The union, which won the support of 62 per cent of voters in a secret postal ballot, believes worse wages and conditions at Gatwick could be the thin end of the wedge. BA introduced new terms there after last year's Dan-Air takeover.
Staff of a new short-haul subsidiary are to be paid 20 per cent less than Heathrow workers, while other BA flights are being switched to the cheaper subsidiary.
BA says the move is necessary to stem annual losses of more than pounds 30m at Gatwick. Yesterday's talks failed to make progress on that issue although agreement was close over the employment of foreign cabin crew on different conditions from those of British staff.
Last night BA insisted: 'We expect to be able to operate well over half of our intercontinental services and a considerable number of our European and domestic services in the event of strike action.'Reuse content