Your 2013 travel resolution? Don’t be a jerk

Hereís a New Yearís resolution we all probably can agree on: Donít be a jerk when youíre on the road.

Thereís something about travel Ė whether youíre flying, driving or sailing Ė that brings out the jerk in all of us. Like the guy in seat 26B just in front of me right now on a flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles, who probably is a nice guy on the ground, but put him on a plane, and shortly after takeoff, he jams his seat into my knees without so much as an apology. Jerk.

Itís the flight attendant who kicked me out of the row of empty seats in the back of the plane, after I moved there to avoid the wedge. He did it with a stern, ďYouíre gonna have to get out of this seat, now. These are blocked for the crew.Ē It wasnít the passive-aggressive way he phrased it as much as it was the tone Ė he might as well have been saying, ďItís a federal offense to interfere with the flight crew.Ē Jerk.

Itís the fellow passenger who almost ran over me as I was disembarking, swearing under her breath because I wasnít moving fast enough. I know I wasnít moving fast enough. I had to help my three kids off the plane and lift their luggage out of the overhead compartments.

It doesnít make any difference how well you are treated or how much you are abused. In the end, we all turn into jerks.

Iíve spoken with psychologists about this phenomenon, and they tell me that thereís something about travel that just makes us insufferable. It is, they speculate, the fact that when we go somewhere, we are away from the social restraints that make us behave Ė our friends, family and community. It could also be the fact that we know weíll never see the people we meet again. So we treat them like props in a movie, as if they are not real.

But they are. I can hardly read my computer screen now because the jerk in 26B had to lean all the way back and because the idiots who installed these seats only gave me 31 inches of seat pitch.

I beg to differ with the experts. I donít think we turn into boorish imbeciles just because weíre away from home, although that may be a contributing factor. I think itís cause and effect, and on two levels. Itís travel companies slowly removing many of the services and amenities that made travel tolerable, on the one hand. Itís a little bit like taking a well-behaved dog, locking him in a cage, depriving him of food and then taunting him. Heíll turn mean, eventually.

But how does that explain the childish behavior of the entitled elites Ė you know, the ones who lurk on sites such as Flyertalk or one of the mileage blogs littered with scammy affiliate links? Opposite problem there: Like the children of dictators, these super-platinum elites are given everything that the travel companies took away from us, the long-suffering passengers in the back of the aircraft.

While we have no room to move in steerage, they complain when their lie-flat sleeper seat doesnít recline all the way. Theyíre told, ďYouíre more special than everyone else; you should expect the world.Ē The result is a cabin full of spoiled babies who fire off complaint letters to their airline when the Chardonnay isnít chilled to the right temperature.

They believe they are Godís gift to travel, but they are not. They are jerks.

You donít have to be. If youíre lucky enough to sit in a first-class seat, be grateful. Thank your employer, who allowed you to collect enough miles for the upgrade. Thank the flight attendant who has to put up with the other whiners in the forward cabin.

Take nothing for granted, because when you stop traveling for business, your elite status will expire and so will your miles, and then you will email me for help getting your status restored.

If youíre sitting in the bleacher seats or staying in a standard room, you donít have to behave like a jerk, either. Donít take it out on your fellow passengers and guests. Itís not their fault that youíre being tortured. Instead, stand up and let the travel company know you wonít be treated like cattle. Fly on airlines and stay in hotels that treat you like a person.

They do exist.

You have it in you to end the incivility thatís made travel a ridiculously bad experience. Do something. Now.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Email him at celliott@ngs.org, or troubleshoot your trip through his website, www.elliott.org. Distributed by Tribune Media Services.