BA reduced the number of cabin crew on flights under cost-saving measures

Talks aimed at averting a strike by British Airways cabin crew continued today, with hopes of a deal balanced on a knife edge.

A deadline to reach an agreement was extended yesterday in a bid to break a deadlocked row over jobs, pay and working practices.

Officials from Unite met BA managers at the London headquarters of the TUC for further talks today, but there was little sign that an agreement was imminent.

There was a suggestion that a deadline of 12.00 had been set for the talks to end, but the two sides remained in negotiations into the afternoon.

Unite will have to give seven days' notice of any industrial action although the union has ruled out any strikes over Easter.

The union offered a 2.6% pay cut last year and it is understood there have been suggestions that could be increased, as well as a two-year pay freeze, under moves to save more than £60 million.

BA reduced the number of cabin crew on flights under cost-saving measures and chief executive Willie Walsh made it clear that the changes would not be reversed.

The union has until next Monday, March 15, to announce industrial action, which would threaten travel chaos for passengers.

BA maintains it has 1,000 volunteer staff ready to work as cabin crew in the coming weeks if a strike goes ahead.

Mr Walsh also revealed that BA would hire 23 fully crewed planes from charter companies to help run flights from Heathrow in the event of industrial action.

Mr Walsh said he did not want a strike to go ahead, adding that he was willing to talk to unions about any concerns cabin crew workers raised, but he stressed that changes made to onboard crew members would not be reversed.

Flights from London's City Airport, including long-haul services to New York, would operate normally in the event of a strike, while 70% of cabin crew would work at Gatwick, meaning all long- haul and 50% of short-haul flights would not be affected, he said.

No specific details were given about flights from Heathrow if a strike goes ahead, but Mr Walsh said a "substantial" number of long- and short-haul flights would still operate.

The front page of the latest edition of BA's staff newspaper, BA News, has a photograph of Mr Walsh and a headline which reads: Time For BA To Move On.

Mr Walsh said a strike by cabin crew would not ground the airline, adding that contingency plans were in place to keep as many customers as possible flying.

It is understood that BA tabled a new offer to the union during this morning's talks, which Unite officials were considering. Neither side would make any comment.