Thousands of British Airways cabin crew will begin voting today over whether to stage a strike over pay and working conditions.

The new ballot will close on February 22, which means the walkout could begin on March 1, although the Unite union has pledged not to strike over the Easter break.

The airline wrote to its 13,400 cabin crew ahead of the ballot to warn that taking industrial action would mean the end to benefits such as free and discounted air fares. Staff reacted with anger to threats and the union branded the airline “petty”.

BA has also asked other staff, such as baggage handlers and check-in agents, to retrain as cabin crew to help reduce the impact of the proposed strike.

A 12-day strike planned for Christmas was averted when a judge ruled that it was illegal.