British Airways is facing a series of crippling three-day walkouts by cabin crew after one of the most overwhelming votes for strike action since the airline was founded.
Both sides were due to begin talks today in an attempt to head off the stoppages which could begin before the end of the month and would ground all but a small minority of flights.
The strikes by stewards and stewardesses over a "serious breakdown in industrial relations" would cause massive disruption to passengers and could cost tens of millions of pounds in lost revenue.
The mandate for strike action was huge even by the militant standards of the cabin crew section of the Transport and General Workers' Union (T&G), with 96 per cent opting for walkouts in an 80 per cent turnout. Union officials revealed that 8,132 voted for strike action, with only 330 against.
Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary of the T&G, said staff were angry about the company's new "macho" approach to management. "The reasonable men and women who are the BA cabin crew have been pushed too far and have had enough. The 96 per cent vote in favour of strike action sends an unmistakable message that there has been a breakdown in relationship between management and the cabin crew, who are a priceless asset without whom BA cannot succeed.
"Management must build trust and start by hearing the voice of the workforce. A new settlement is crucial, built on respect for the cabin crew."
The union said cabin crew were angered at the way sickness absence was dealt with by the airline and claims that staff were under pressure to turn up for work even if they were unwell. Workers were also unhappy about pay and terms and conditions, which they claimed had been eroded by a new management regime.
The airline also faces a separate dispute over planned changes to its pension scheme.
A spokesman for BA said the airline was "very disappointed" by the threat of what would be "completely unnecessary" industrial action. He said: "The union says that one of its key concerns is pensions, yet we have just concluded 16 months of talks by accepting a proposal put forward by the T&G and our other unions. On that basis alone we believe the T&G should pause to reflect before threatening the travel plans of our customers and their families. On all the other issues the union has raised, we have suggested ways of meeting the union's concerns, but up to now it has either refused to discuss our proposals or rejected them out of hand."