But Alexander Gerhard-Madjidi, a spokesman for the Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) union representing 4,000 pilots, said the strike action could be extended.

"We hope that we are going to get some movement in the next four days. If not, next week or later, of course we are going to have to plan further strike action."

'Unworkable demands'

Confirming the start of the strike at midnight on Monday (23:00 GMT on Sunday), Stefanie Stotz, a Lufthansa spokeswoman, said the airline regretted "the inconveniences caused" to passengers.

VC pilots voted for the strike on concerns that the company could try to cut staff costs by shifting jobs to foreign subsidiaries where wages are lower.

Pilots for Lufthansa Cargo and Lufthansa's its low-budget subsidiary, Germanwings, are also taking part in the strike after last-ditch attempts to reach a compromise failed.

Over the weekend, the VC union offered new negotiations, but Lufthansa said it would not resume talks unless the union dropped certain demands.

"We are open to talks without preconditions," Klaus Walther, another Lufthansa spokesman, said, adding that "if Cockpit withdrew its list of unworkable and illegal demands... an agreement could be found quickly".

"We are ready to come to an agreement on job security for the pilots of Lufthansa straight away. It is on VC to accept the only pre-condition that is in the way and that is the paper that demands that pilots from abroad are included in the labour agreement," he said.

Pay rise wanted
 
The union wants a 6.4 per cent pay rise, more say in company decisions and commitments that pilots would keep their jobs when Lufthansa shifts passengers to cheaper, foreign affiliates.

It also wants all pilots in the Lufthansa group, including affiliated airlines overseas such as Austrian Airlines or Lufthansa Italia, to receive the same salary, fearing that jobs will be lost as the company moves flights to the foreign partner airlines that pay lower wages.

Speaking on local television, Peter Ramsauer, the German transport minister called for the two sides to return to the negotiating table.

Stefan Lauer, a Lufthansa board member, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper on Sunday that the company was prepared to guarantee all pilots' jobs until the end of 2012.

It could extend that guarantee until 2013 or 2014 if pilots were willing to forego pay raises for more than 12 months, he said.

Germany's economic recovery stalled at the end of 2009, and workers are becoming increasingly concerned that they could lose their jobs.

Many have looked to employers to promise job security in exchange for concessions on pay.

Lufthansa's worst strike occured nine years ago, when planes were grounded for three days, causing travel misery for passengers and costing the carrier millions of dollars.

BA complaints

British Airways has called the planned action by their staff "completely unjustified", but more than 80 per cent of flight attendants backed the strike in a ballot carried out on Monday. 

"Unite ... today announced that the ballot of its cabin crew members at British Airways has resulted in another overwhelming vote for strike action in the long-running dispute over imposed changes to crew numbers and working practices," the union said in a statement.

It was the second time that the union's members had voted for action but a strike planned for over Christmas and the New Year was called off after the high court ruled it could not go ahead.

No date has been set for the latest action but the union said crew would not walkout during the busy Easter period at the beginning of April. 

BA, which has forecast a record loss in its current financial year, says it wants to review the working conditions of its cabin crew, who are paid more than their counterparts at other airlines.