British Airways has asked conciliation service Acas to get involved in talks aimed at averting a three-day strike over sickness, pay and staff issues.
British Airways has been hit by industrial action three years running
The airline's cabin crew will stage a walk-out from the 29 to 31 January, the T&G union said on Sunday.
T&G said agreement was still possible but warned of two further stoppages in February if no resolution emerged.
BA said the strike was "totally unjustifiable" and it would affect hundreds of thousands of passengers.
The airline's chief executive Willie Walsh told the BBC that calling in Acas was a positive step. "We want to resolve these issues through dialogue," he said.
Strike announced for 29-31 January
Second three-day strike possible for 5-7 February
Third three-day strike possible for 12-14 February
BA will let passengers booked on flights during 29 January - 16 February change their dates of travel
"Threatening our customers is not the way forward. We have to avoid disruption.
"We've spoken with Acas and we've asked Acas to get involved to assist in these talks, and I would hope the T&G will welcome that initiative."
The T&G said the next 48 to 72 hours would be crucial if there was to be any possibility of preventing the first strike.
The union's deputy general secretary Jack Dromey, who is leading its negotiating team, said there was a raft of problems to be settled.
Cabin crew have complained that a new regime on sick pay - introduced 18 months ago - means they are forced to work when they are ill. Another issue is starter pay rates for crew members.
BA insisted it was merely cutting high levels of sickness absence. The average of 22 days had been reduced to 12 but this was still above the UK average of seven a year per worker.
The union held several meetings with BA bosses last week following a 96% vote for industrial action by the 11,000 cabin crew workers.
Mr Dromey said British Airways management had "completely failed to engage" with the union, which said it was ready to resume talks at any time.
"What you need in any modern employer in the 21st century is a joint approach towards sickness absence where you combine preventing abuse on the one hand and fairness on the other," Mr Dromey told the BBC.
"The simple reality in BA is that workers who are sick come to work because they fear the consequences and that cannot be right."
BA said it had made "serious proposals" to change the way the sickness policy was applied.
It added said the union was now also demanding a "significant" pay rise, whereas it needed to remain competitive.
Chief executive Willie Walsh said the strike would cause "chaos" for hundreds of thousands of customers.
It would also cause further damage to the airline, which has been hit in recent months by security and weather problems.
The airline said it would let people booked to fly between 29 January and 16 February change the date of their trip.
Some parts of BA - mainly subsidiaries and franchise partners - will not be hit by the strike.
These include BA Connect, GB Airways, Loganair, Sunair and Comair.
Are you a member of BA cabin crew? Tell us whether you feel a strike would be justified.
This session is now closed.
A selection of your comments:
The airline belongs to the shareholders and not to the cabin crew and the transport union which have to be abolished - otherwise the airline will suffer and go into bankruptcy as a result and then all cabin crew will be without jobs. It is time to compromise and come to terms with airline.
To make any comment to the press or media, would result in instant dismissal as per our contract terms as cabin crew - please issue a statement regarding this.
I believe a strike is justified, as cabin crew we are constantly suffering fatigue from working long hours in different time zones. I feel I never recover from this and as a consequence, I am often ill.
Geof Carter, London
I feel that a strike would definitely be justified. BA simply are not listening to our concerns. In so far as the sickness policy goes, BA refuse to accept that, as crew we are unable to come to work with certain conditions that would be acceptable for some of our co-workers on the ground.
Further to that, the company say that some instances of sickness "could" or "may" (not "should" or "must") be discounted from the attendance management process. This is, of course at your manager's discretion, and BA refuse to give a list of even some examples of those instances where this might be the case.
I accept that BA believes it has a problem with its absence levels within the crew community, particularly with what it calls non-genuine sickness, but imposing this new attendance management policy isn't the answer. I personally, have never gone sick when I didn't need to. However, I know that I'm not alone when I say that I have come to work in the past when I have not been well enough, for fear of being placed into the attendance management scheme.
The strike is barely justified. I work for BA as cabin crew at London Gatwick (LGW) and we already have lower numbers of pursers and senior cabin crew, lower pay scales and less chance of promotion. BASSA has allowed these terms and conditions to be implemented at LGW but fights them to the death at "fortress Heathrow".
The reasons for the strike are shallow and flawed. Cabin Service Directors at Heathrow have salaries of up to £70,000/year, pursers can take home over £3,000 a month. Read £25,000 and £1,500/month at Gatwick. And though I hate to say it, it takes only two weeks to train us for safety, security and medical. Another three weeks for "customer service". We can be replaced quickly. Strikers should beware of Willy Walsh - I fear his reply may be harsh. All an unnecessary shame and a strike that will damager this airline forever.
We do not want to strike. We have been forced into this position by the bully-boy tactics of our senior management. We are only protecting our terms and conditions. We are not asking for a pay rise. It has been wrongly printed in some press reports that BA cabin crew earn £22,000+. New entrants start on a basic salary of £8,000 which is capped after so many years. New entrants will never achieve the same basic as crew who started pre-1997. By the very nature of the job, there are some medical conditions which prevent us from coming to work, these are not discounted under BA's draconian sickness policy and potentially crew could find themselves in a disciplinary process for having a broken limb.
Mandy, Camberley, UK
Of course our sickness levels will be higher than a 9-5 office worker. It's not exactly that we can open up a window in our workplace.
Bryan, BA cabin crew 13 years, Crawley
BA management are completely out of touch, they are obsessed with cost cutting. Meals get smaller or disappear completely, terminals and planes get shabbier, front line staff are replaced by machines and yet our head office is gleaming while more and more managers are recruited all the time. After nine years' service my basic salary is £15,748, and it is capped for life at that figure. I have another 29 years service. At that level after 40 years at BA my pension will be £340 per month. Directors bonuses and pensions run to millions while we get about £400 per year bonus.
To the target-driven, career-minded managers, cabin crew are nothing more than an inconvenient necessity, a number rather than individuals. They strive to cut costs to "earn" their next bonus and then move on to another department, oblivious to the chaos and low morale they leave behind. We're not striking for a pay rise or better conditions, just to protect the already eroded conditions we currently have.
Sickness is high amongst cabin crew, due to a unique set of working conditions that prevent us working when an office worker could still attend. We are not malingerers, as one of our concerned managers described us; we are hard working professionals at the end of our tether.
Yes, the strike is justified to make the arrogant management treat us with respect and as human beings.
Nigel Patience, Smallfield, England
I am not a member of BA cabin crew but I do work for BA at Heathrow (LHR). This strike is completely unjustified. All other BA staff at LHR are under the same sickness scheme. What makes the cabin crew so special, and why do they think they should be treated differently to the rest of us? If this strike goes ahead it will not only affect the customers but also the rest of us who work for BA.
KLM crew work 480 hours flying time per year, in France the legal maximum is 750 hours per year. In the UK its has been 900 hours per year since April 2004. British Airways management has been ignoring this health and safety legislation, one manager told me the average for full time crew 2004 to 2006 was 1170 hours flying time per year.
There are still crew who are being made to work over the maximum number of hours and British Airways makes it nigh on impossible to find out how many hours have actually achieved.
Cabin crew are also finding that leave is frequently denied them and in the past has been taken away without payment or credit. In other words "you are entitled to leave, but we can't spare you and because you haven't used your leave you lose it."
Might there be a link between sickness and the illegal working practises our management has imposed on us? Why is it so difficult to convey why we are striking, the only people listening to us are our reps.
We are the national flag carrier and are proud to be so. So why should we have our conditions reduced to be even below those of a low cost airline? That's why we are fighting
Matthew , London