Leaders of the Air Line Pilots Association yesterday recommended a nationwide strike to protest airline deregulation, while union leaders for Continental Airlines' pilots and flight attendants decided to walk out on the bankrupt carrier at 3 a.m. Saturday (Washington time).

It was unclear whether either the planned or the recommended job actions had sufficient rank-and-file support to be effective.

ALPA President Henry A. Duffy said his group's executive board, meeting in Houston, passed a unanimous resolution "authorizing me to go to the membership and obtain a suspension of service nationwide at a period and duration to be determined by me."

ALPA spokesman Marty Martinez had said earlier that passage of such a resolution would be the first in a series of procedures before the union's 34,000 national members could walk out.

Martinez said that Duffy was seeking the executive committee's support for a "nationwide SOS" (suspension of service) to use as a bargaining tool in Congress for legislation to protect airline employes against some problems union members have had since deregulation.

Duffy said last night that the time lag built into the resolution recommending a nationwide strike was designed to give Congress time to act.

ALPA represents pilots at all major domestic carriers except American. In 1972, ALPA called for a nationwide walkout to gain government support against hijackings. A court order prohibited the walkout, but wildcat action made it partially disruptive for a day or two.

Continental, which filed for reorganization under federal bankruptcy laws last Saturday night, has been operating a cut-rate schedule serving 25 cities (instead of its former 78) since it reopened Tuesday.

The Continental pilots now flying have taken salary cuts of nearly 50 percent, from an annual average of $89,400 to $43,000, and are being asked to work many more hours and flights a week than their old contract required.

ALPA's Continental group, called a master executive council, voted for "withdrawal of services" after an hour-long meeting in Houston, according to spokesman Gary Thomas. He said the pilots would remain out "until a satisfactory back-to-work agreement is negotiated. We intend to make it stick." Continental has 2,025 pilots, with 1,435 still working, he said.

The Union of Flight Attendants, which represents 2,700 Continental flight attendants, said its executive board also voted unanimously to strike early Saturday. "The flight attendants' executive board voted to withdraw our services . . . alongside the pilots," spokesman Marilyn Wade said.

Continental spokesman Bruce Hicks said the airline had been "expecting this reaction" and said a walkout would have no effect on service. "More than enough" pilots had "affirmed to us their willingness to continue flying despite such a call by the union," he said. Another Continental official said the airline has more than 100 non-union pilots who would work.

Hicks said the company believed that a strike would be illegal because Continental is operating under the protection of bankruptcy laws.