British Airways is refusing to be intimidated by the threat of an extensive cabin crew strike over the Christmas holiday period, insisting that it will not back down over operational changes behind the dispute.

It has rejected the Unite union's accusations that the airline imposed the changes, which led to yesterday's decision to hold a 12-day strike, and has reiterated its stance that the cabin crew package is fair.

BA says that the "minor" changes to reduce crew numbers from London Heathrow bring crewing levels into line with those at London Gatwick - and adds that these levels have been in place for years, with Unite's consent.

"We will not be reversing our changes to on-board crew numbers," warns BA chief Willie Walsh. "Unite must understand that there can be no return to the old, inefficient ways if we want to ensure long-term survival in the interests of our customers, shareholders and all our staff."

BA says it discussed the package, which includes crew reductions on certain flights, for nine months. Walsh says the carrier has accepted more than 1,000 requests for voluntary redundancy as a result of the new measures, and that BA expects to achieve additional savings through part-time working agreements.

It states that no-one's terms and conditions will be reduced, and points out that most crew will receive pay rises this year and next.

"Thousands of staff across the company have made contributions to the cost reductions that are essential to move the company back toward profitability," says the carrier.

"Our cabin crew, who are rightly renowned for their professionalism and skills, cannot be exempt from this process."

BA stresses that it is prepared to talk with Unite about the recruitment of new crew members once the airline's position is stable and the business is able to expand.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news