My recent research into passenger rights, aviation regulations, and seat legroom lead me to one person in common: Ralph Nader. Irregardless of your political beliefs, this independent presidential candidate has been involved in quite a few beneficial changes in the industry for travelers.

Here are some of the most common you’re likely to encounter for the better and where they stand now.

Getting Bumped From Your Flight

Before the mid-1970’s airlines were under no legal obligation to provide compensation when passengers were bumped from their flights, until they bumped Nader.

If your flight is canceled or delayed due to weather, air traffic control delays, labor problems, or a “mechanical” you are not entitled to any compensation. In fact, at one time airlines could bump you off a flight at will until Delta made the mistake of bumping Ralph Nader.

Currently passengers may only receive compensation for delays that are caused by overbooking flights. The Department of Transportation is working on defining the rights passengers have if they’re bumped. Until then, you’ll have to solve your own vacation nightmares – unless you’re bumped in the European Union.

This is in contrast to airlines that fly in the European Union, which are required to compensate passengers who are bumped, as well as passengers who experience many types of delays and flight cancellations.

The Aviation Consumer Action Project (ACAP)

This independent consumer watch group was founded by Nader in 1971. The ACAP reports on falling airline safety standards and is helping to push individual states and the federal government to develop a passenger bill of rights. New York, despite airline protests, enacted a passenger bill of rights on January 1, 2008.

The first-of-its-kind state law requires airlines to provide food, water, electricity and waste removal when a flight from a New York airport waits more than three hours to take off.

A nationwide passenger bill of rights is currently stuck in the political purgatory of filibuster and did not gather enough votes to be brought before? Congress. Find out how your state’s Congressperson voted and contact them to let them know you want a passenger bill of rights.

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Increasing Legroom

Nader, along with the Six Footer’s Club put pressure on the airlines to increase the amount of legroom provided to travelers, which they did in 1999. The amount of space between seats has been shrinking for the past 20 years and there are no laws or regulations against it.

Increasingly business travlers have been deserting the major carriers whenever they can, causing a major boom in shared use and charter corporate jets. Also, ACAP had planned to petition the FAA and DOT to set minimum leg room standards within the next 30 days.

While Ralph has been off to a good start advocating reforms that benefit travelers, there is still a long way to go. As customer service gets bad enough to make people pay more for alternatives, you flyers have the ultimate pull. Write to airline executives (here’s a list), voice your complaints, and don’t take no for an answer.

[photo by: MatthewBradley]