British Airways cabin crew began a four-day strike on Saturday, the second walkout this month that will cost the company millions of pounds and lead to more travel chaos before the busy Easter holiday period.

BA said its contingency plans would mean that 75 percent of its customers would be able to fly despite the action.

The Unite Union said the ongoing and increasingly bitter dispute was damaging the airline's finances and reputation.

The action over pay and jobs is also embarrassing for Prime Minister Gordon Brown as Unite is his Labour Party's largest financial backer and an election only weeks away.

Ministers on Saturday called for a resumption of talks to bring an end to the strike over pay and staff cuts.

We have been very clear that we don't think the strike is justified and we've urged both sets of parties to get around the negotiating table and efforts will continue to make that happen, Ed Miliband, energy and climate change secretary, told Sky news.

The dispute began because BA wants to save an annual 62.5 million pounds ($92.76 million) to help cope with falling demand, volatile fuel prices and greater competition.

Last weekend's three-day stoppage, which the airline said cost it about 7 million pounds a day, led to claim and counter-claim from BA and Unite.

BA said it had been able to operate much of its usual schedule and that almost 60 percent of its 12,000 cabin staff had turned up to work.

This time it plans to operate a normal schedule from London's Gatwick and City airports and 70 percent of long-haul flights from London Heathrow, overall flying more than 180,000 of the 240,000 passengers originally booked.

Another 18 percent have been rebooked to travel on other carriers or changed the dates of their flights.

I am delighted that we will be able to fly such a large proportion of our customers to their chosen destinations in the coming days, said BA's chief executive Willie Walsh.


Unite, which represents about 90 percent of BA's cabin crew, says the company's statistics have been misleading, adding that support for the strike had been very strong.

It puts the daily cost of the action at between 15 and 20 million pounds, taking into account lost revenue and the hire of other aircraft and staff from other airlines, making the total over seven days 100 million pounds.

Its national officer, Steve Turner, told Sky news it was ready to resume talks.

The point is that we are open to meet with this company at any point, at any place, anywhere, over the course of the coming days. This will only ever be resolved by negotiations, he said.

Unite accused the company of trying to destroy trade unionism among its cabin crew.

The Guardian newspaper said in its Saturday edition BA had commissioned a report three years ago from an academic consultant who had encouraged it to take on the union.

But in a letter to the paper, BA said the report did not represent the company's views. No further talks are planned on Saturday but both sides have said a settlement is possible.

The dispute, coupled with plans for rail staff to hold Britain's first national rail strike in 16 years in April, is proving a headache for Brown, facing an uphill battle to win re-election in an election expected on May 6.

He received some good news when Acas, the arbitration service, said talks between Network Rail and trade unions would resume on Monday in an attempt to settle a dispute over planned job cuts and changes to working practices.

The opposition Conservatives have used the strikes to accuse Brown of weakness because of his party's links to unions which provide most of its funding.

(Additional reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Mike Peacock)