British Airways cabin crew have voted overwhelmingly for strikes in a dispute over pay, in a move that could result in flights from Heathrow being disrupted over the Christmas holidays, the Unite union says.

Cabin crew in BA’s mixed fleet unit – who represent about 15 per cent of stewards at the airline – voted to strike after rejecting a two per cent pay rise offer on what Unite has described as “poverty pay” levels.

The pay dispute involves cabin crew from BA’s ‘mixed fleet’ branch who joined the airline since 2010, with Unite claiming they are on lower pay and conditions than existing crew

Unite represents around 2,500 workers out of a total of 4,500 in BA’s so-called Mixed Fleet, which in turn makes up just over a quarter of the company’s 16,000 cabin crew.

The union said that 1,519 staff had voted in the ballot, of whom 80 per cent voted in favour of strike action.

The strikes could begin as early as December 21, although Unite representatives will meet over the next two days to decide what action to take and finalise the date.

The union claimed earnings were advertised between £21,000 and £25,000 but in reality started at just over £12,000 plus £3 an hour flying pay.

“Not surprisingly, the crew have rejected a 2% pay offer and on-board customer service managers are furious,” the union said.

“They do not have collective bargaining rights. The managers have also endured a six-year pay freeze.”

According to a recent Unite survey, half of Mixed Fleet staff have taken on second jobs to make ends meet, and more than two-thirds were going to work “unfit to fly” because they could not afford to be off sick.

It said 84 per cent reported experiencing stress and depression since joining BA because of their financial circumstances.

Some even admitted sleeping in cars between flights, because they could not afford the petrol to get home.

It comes as Britain remains in the grip of a walkout by Southern Rail staff that has caused travel chaos for hundreds of thousands of commuters.

Unite regional officer Matt Smith said:

“Our members have overwhelmingly voted for strike action because British Airways’ pay rates are indefensible and the crew are at breaking point.

“Mixed fleet crew earn just over the minimum wage and below the national average. Significant numbers of crew are taking on second jobs, many go to work unfit to fly because they can’t afford to be sick. British Airways bosses need to wake up to the anger and the injustice here.”

“Not only are the pay rates indefensible but, in aviation, low pay is a safety issue. Thirty percent of the Mixed Fleet crew have been with the company for just under a year.

“Crew simply can’t afford to stay. Inexperience, fatigue, and the fact that BA recently cut the length of crew training courses means Unite is genuinely concerned about the potential repercussions.

The airline was the site of Britain’s most prolonged and bitter strikes of recent years, when cabin crew walked out for 22 days between 2010 and 2011, a dispute that cost the airline about £150m.