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Originally published December 19, 2010 at 7:13 PM | Page modified December 20, 2010 at 8:38 AM

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Travelers, brace yourselves for the holiday crush

Holiday travel: More people will be traveling over the Christmas and New Year's holidays. That means fuller flights, more crowded highways and higher prices for gas and hotels.

Seattle Times travel writer

Travelers' resources

• Check on airport information, updates and parking at www.portseattle.org. Sea-Tac's cellphone lot could be full. Coupons for $2-per-hour, short-term garage parking are on the website.

• Washington highway conditions: www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic or phone 511• Washington State Ferries: www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries or 206-464-6400.

• Greyhound bus lines: www.greyhound.com or 800-231-2222

• Amtrak: www.amtrak.com or 800-872-7245

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Planes, trains and automobiles. However you travel this holiday season, brace for crowds.

Call it a sign of the recovering economy, but more Americans will be traveling this year over Christmas and New Year's. That means fuller flights, busier highways and higher prices for gas and hotels.

Flying? You'll be among 43.6 million passengers flying in the United States over the next three weeks, says the Air Transport Association of America. The busiest days will be Tuesday through Thursday; then Dec. 26-30; and Jan. 2 and 3. The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) expects 97,650 passengers Thursday, its busiest day.

Driving? Join the crowd. AAA says nine out of 10 of us will go by car. It estimates 85.7 million people will drive 50 miles or more to destinations between Thursday and Jan. 2, also up 3 percent.

Taking the train? If mudslides keep stopping trains between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. or Portland, Amtrak will get you there but by bus.

Pack your patience along with holiday gifts, and keep these travel tips in mind:

Anticipate delays

If the weather outside is frightful ...

Check your flight's status before leaving for the airport, and sign up for e-mail, voice or text alerts.

With planes flying nearly full, be proactive about checking on seat availability on other flights. Try the phone apps at mobile.flightstats.com, and a map at www.flightstats.com that shows which airports have delays.

Amtrak posts updates at www.amtrak.com. Last year, it ran additional trains between Seattle and Portland, and it may again this year, said spokeswoman Vernae Graham. Amtrak replaces trains with buses when mudslides block the tracks.

As for the highways? Best advice: Get an early start. Pack some snacks and extra clothing. And before you leave, check road conditions at www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic or phone 511.

Be ready for security

Scanners flashing, people passing

With the new full-body scanners at U.S. airports, including Sea-Tac, you have the option to decline and walk though a metal detector instead, but you'll also get a full-body pat-down.

The scanners see through clothes to detect suspicious objects. Even a pin or a Kleenex left in a pocket could trigger an alert, in which case you'll get a pat-down.

Wear slip-on shoes, and empty your pockets completely before going through security. Put wallets, keys and other items in your carry-on bag for safekeeping.

Check your ID

Is that you, Santa Claus?

Print your boarding pass at home and check that your name matches your official identification.

New federal rules are in place, so if you booked your ticket before Nov. 1, call the airline to check that it has your name, birth date and gender recorded correctly. And don't forget to bring your ID.

Watch those liquids

Leave Santa's glass of milk at home

Leave the snow globes and homemade jam at home, or put them in checked bags.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rules limit the size of each container of liquid or gel in carry-ons to 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less; your items need to fit in one quart-size plastic bag.

Homemade items such as jellies, oils and salad dressings should be packed in checked luggage, or mailed. Leave gifts unwrapped. See www.tsa.gov.

Pack lightly

Or it will cost you

Except for Southwest Airlines, carriers charge for checking bags. Check your airline's website for details, or see a fee-comparison chart at www.smartertravel.com. Pay checked-bag fees online to avoid extra fees at airports.

Put cameras, iPods, cellphones, jewelry and other valuables in your carry-on. Airlines won't take responsibility for valuables packed in checked luggage.

Remember your rights

A 'bumpy' flight?

Airlines sometimes oversell flights during busy periods. Check in early to avoid being bumped.

Airlines first ask for volunteers to give up their seats and take another flight, usually in exchange for a first-class seat, plus money or a voucher for future travel.

If they don't get enough volunteers, you could be bumped involuntarily. If that delays your original arrival by more than an hour, the airline must offer compensation. For details, go to airconsumer.ost.dot.gov, click on Travel Tips & Publications, then Fly Rights.

Watch your budget

You'll need to fatten up your wallet

Prepare to pay more for gas and hotels. AAA says gas prices are averaging $3.17 per gallon in Washington state, up 36 cents from this time last year. Hotel rates nationally are up an average of 2 percent to 5 percent. One piece of good news: Average weekend car-rental rates are unchanged from last year at $50 per day.

Carol Pucci: cpucci@seattletimes.com

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