Hong Kong travel agencies are scrambling to secure seats with other airlines in an attempt to salvage Christmas travel plans of thousands before the British Airways cabin crew strike begins on Tuesday.

Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung said at least 1,200 passengers have been booked on long-haul tours during the Christmas period.

BA yesterday posted a notice on its website advising passengers to leave their mobile numbers to receive flight updates.

Wing On Travel said eight of its long- haul tours to Europe, involving about 200 people, may be affected if BA cancels flights between Hong Kong and London.

“Though we are still awaiting an announcement by BA about the flight arrangements, we have started looking for seats with other airlines,” a spokeswoman for Wing On Travel said.

She admitted it is not easy to find seats due to the short notice, especially with the holiday peak only a week away.

The BA Hong Kong office hotline for both passengers and travel agents remained jammed yesterday. But on its website, the airline said: “We would like to reassure our customers that all of our flights are continuing to operate as normal at this time. We are currently reworking our flight schedules for the strike period and aim to announce them as quickly as possible.

“Our intention is to inform affected customers directly if we have their e-mail address or by SMS text if we have their mobile phone number.”

Passengers who are booked to travel between December 22 and January 2 will be able to rebook flights to the same destination within the next 12 months at no extra charge.

If a flight is canceled because of the industrial action, the airline will offer customers the option of a refund or a booking on a different flight or rerouting on another BA flight or other carriers, the website said.

BA chief executive officer Willie Walsh was scheduled to meet with Unite union leaders late last night in an effort to head off the strike by 13,000 cabin crew.

BA spokesman Philip Allport said the unconditional talks were due to begin at 11pm (HK time).

Unite spokeswoman Pauline Doyle said in an e-mail that Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson, its general secretaries, would attend and that the union is pleased the company has seen sense.

Meanwhile, the High Court began hearing a BA appeal for an injunction to block the 12-day walkout.

The airline is arguing that a ballot of flight attendants giving a mandate for the strike is invalid because it included workers who have agreed to leave.