British Airways cabin crew are to stage a 12-day strike over Christmas after voting massively in favour of industrial action in a bitter row over jobs, pay and working conditions, it was announced today.
The shock move by the Unite union will cause travel chaos for up to one million customers planning a festive break or visit to family and friends.
More than nine out of 10 Unite members backed strikes in a huge turnout of over 80%, which the union said showed how angry cabin crew were at the imposition of changes, including staff cuts.
Len McCluskey, Unite's assistant general secretary, said he hoped the size of the vote would force BA to reopen negotiations.
"More than nine out of 10 staff are saying that what is happening is wrong - they want to be treated with dignity and respect.
"We have taken this decision to disrupt passengers with a heavy heart and we are hoping that the company can still avoid it happening.
"We would like passengers to be angry with the company. It is something of an irony that the people responsible for making BA the best airline in the world are now engaged in a dispute."
Mr McCluskey said the cabin crew were not "mindless militants", but decent men and women who were proud of BA and did not want to bring the company down.
The strike will start on December 22 and will run to January 2, grounding hundreds of flights.
The union warned of further strikes if the long-running dispute was not resolved.
Cabin crew will receive £30 a day strike pay, costing Unite more than £500,000 over the 12-day period.
Officials said it was one of the biggest turnouts in a ballot and one of the largest majorities for industrial action.
BA is already losing about £1.5 million a day but stands to be hit by crippling losses from next week as a result of the walkout.
Hundreds of cabin crew were given the ballot result at a mass meeting at Sandown Park racecourse in Esher, Surrey and cheered when they heard the news.
Many were in their BA uniform, and some had young children in buggies with them.