Virgin Atlantic reportedly faces a strike threat by pilots around the Christmas travel peak.

More than half of the carrier’s pilots are being balloted on strike action.

They claim the airline has refused to recognise their union or consult with them about proposed changes to their benefits, the Financial Times reports today.

Virgin Atlantic does not recognise the Professional Pilots Union, which represents 450 of its 800 pilots, and instead deals with the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa).

Steve Johnson, spokesman for the PPU and a former senior Virgin Atlantic captain, said: “Our efforts to take part in the benefits review have been repeatedly resisted by the company.

“Our members have mandated the PPU to negotiate, but for the last two years it appears the company has chosen to ignore the majority of its pilots and deal only with a union that speaks for the minority. That’s a fundamental mistake.”

Craig Kreeger, Virgin chief executive, who is retiring at the end of the year, wrote to pilots last week to explain changes to their terms and conditions, which the PPU said were “a cost-cutting exercise,” according to the newspaper.

The changes include capping an income protection scheme at five years, cancelling a dependants’ pension scheme and reducing corporate pension contributions from 15% to 10%.

Virgin Atlantic said: “We have been working closely with our recognised trade union Balpa in relation to a proposal regarding a benefits review, and are confident that this will be completed in a satisfactory manner.

“We’ve always been willing in principle to recognise the PPU, but we won’t agree to their demand that we derecognise Balpa, and disenfranchise the hundreds of pilots who belong to this union.”

Balpa said: “Following two days of discussions, Balpa has rejected the company’s proposals and we expect they will be reconsidering their position. Therefore, at the moment there is no need to consider industrial action.”

However, the PPU said the changes were only part of its larger dispute with Virgin Atlantic about recognition and it would continue with its ballot.

Johnson said he recognised that a strike around Christmas would cause “considerable upset”, and expressed his wishes to avoid industrial action.

Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson owns 51% of the airline, but he is in the process of selling 31% to Air France-KLM. Delta Air Lines owns the remaining stake.

The airline reported a £28.4 million loss before tax and exceptional items for 2017 in March, compared with a £23 million profit the previous year.

Virgin Atlantic had previously reported three consecutive years of profits totalling £56 million, following substantial losses in 2012 and 2013.