LONDON (AP) -- Budget carrier Ryanair said Friday it is reversing its longstanding refusal to recognize pilots' unions in a bid to avert strikes in six European countries over the busy Christmas season.
Chief Executive Michael O'Leary said the airline wants to ease customers' concerns "that they may be disrupted by pilot industrial action next week."
"If the best way to achieve this is to talk to our pilots through a recognized union process, then we are prepared to do so," he said.
Ryanair pilots in Ireland and Germany both voted to take industrial action over the holiday season in disputes over pay and conditions. Italian and Portuguese pilot unions also threatened strikes in the coming days.
Ryanair, which insisted earlier this week it would not deal with the unions, said its new offer was conditional on unions in the six countries setting up special committees to deal with issues related to the airline.
Ryanair pilots in Italy suspended a strike planned for Friday afternoon after the company's announcement.
The airline had come under intense criticism in Italy for a letter to employees threatening action against anyone who strikes.
The Fit-Cisl union threatened legal action in response, saying Ryanair's letter violated the Italian constitution, while Transport Minister Graziano Delrio asked the company directly for clarification of its intentions.
A spokesman for the Irish pilots' union said it had not yet received any correspondence from Ryanair, but "when we do we will be giving it full consideration."