Frantic efforts were being made today to head off this weekend's strike by British Airways cabin crew.

The airline's chief executive Willie Walsh held face-to-face talks with Tony Woodley, joint leader of the Unite union, with time running out for breaking the deadlocked row over cost-cutting

The two men met at the London headquarters of the TUC, whose general secretary Brendan Barber has been trying to broker a deal for the last few weeks.

Mr Woodley left the building shortly after 1.30pm to attend a meeting of cabin crew representatives at Unite's head office nearby.

The union leader said as he left the building: "We are meeting and we are talking."

The surprise last-minute talks offered a glimmer of hope that the three-day strike could still be averted.

The talks came as international support for the strike increased, possibly jeopardising management plans to fly 60% of customers regardless of the action.

Unions representing ground crews in the US and Germany pledged solidarity, raising the prospect of BA flights being disrupted at overseas destinations.

Six trade unions in France were also reportedly organising their own action in support of BA workers.

But BA said yesterday it aims to fly thousands more passengers during the strike than it had initially planned after more staff volunteered to work.

The union accused BA of "bluffing" and claimed only 350 volunteers were prepared to stand in for strikers this weekend, as opposed to the 1,000 announced by the