Travellers could face significant disruption over the Christmas period if a ballot of British Airways (BA) cabin crew is in favour of strike action.

The ballot by Unite of its 12,000 BA cabin crew members begins today – the same day the new working practices the union is contesting are being imposed, and less than a week after the airline announced plans to merge with Iberia.

Results of the ballot are due on December 14. The dispute is over BA’s decision to slash 1,700 full-time cabin crew jobs at Heathrow. According to Unite, the cuts could mean between one and three fewer attendants on flights, resulting in an increased workload for its members.

The airline has also imposed a two-year pay freeze.

The union has written a collective letter of objection to BA on behalf of its cabin crew members and has asked a firm of solicitors to set up an e-helpline to get feedback from crew on the impact of the working practices and customer service.

The letter also makes it clear that Unite’s members, which account for 12,000 of the 14,000 staff employed as cabin crew by BA, do not accept the imposed changes.

A High Court trial scheduled for February 1 2010 will consider Unite’s claim that the changes are contractual and so subject to negotiation.