The chief executive of British Airways, Willie Walsh, is to meet Tony Woodley, Unite’s joint leader, ahead of a proposed strike at the airline on Saturday.
The meeting will be the first direct contact between the two leaders.
British Airways has been negotiating with Unite through the auspices of the Trade Union Council, but Mr Walsh has now decided to meet directly with Unite in a last ditch effort to avoid strikes.
The news comes as support for Unite appears to be spreading internationally.
The union – which represents some 12,000 cabin crew at the airline – will call workers out on strike for three days from March 20th, with a further four days of action planned from March 27th.
The decision to strike – while seen as unpopular in Great Britain – has been gaining support around the world.
In the United States, Teamsters – the largest workers union in the country – has offered support, with leader James Hoffa suggesting flights could be disrupted by action at US airports. “Whatever we have to do, we will do,” said Mr Hoffa.
However, strict labour laws in the US could call into question any action the union might take.
Meanwhile, in Germany Ingo Kronsfoth, an official from union ver.di, said: “We want Unite to succeed, if it emerges from these talks that something is needed at this or that airport at this or that time, we will do it.”
It is thought disruption could hit Frankfurt Airport, with ground crew refusing to handle baggage, clean and refuel on British Airways flights.
In France six trade unions have organised a “solidarity strike”, with action planned for three days from March 28th.
Cabin crew at Air France are protesting against changes to working conditions on short and medium-haul flights over the summer tourist season.
Ahead of the strike, British Airways has been developing its contingency plans. Following a decision by a “significant” number of staff to cross picket lines, the flag-carrier now hopes to fly around 65 per cent of its schedule.
As many as 60 airlines from around the world have also offered assistance to BA, while the carrier has also recruited upward of 1,000 temporary cabin crew from within its own ranks.
However, Unite has criticised the quality of the training offered to these staff, while also questioning security checks in place at British Airways.
Speaking yesterday Willie Walsh, British Airways chief executive, said: “The determination of our colleagues across the whole business to keep the flag flying this weekend is increasing.
“I am delighted by the numbers of cabin crew who have been getting in touch with us to express their disillusion with Unite’s position.
“Our crews just want to work as normal, do their usual terrific job and look after our customers.”