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Originally published December 8, 2012 at 12:04 AM | Page modified January 4, 2013 at 9:56 AM

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TSA tells all for holiday travelers

Tips for coping with crowded holiday flights and airports.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Are you one of those travelers who can’t leave home without jam, Jell-O or Jergens skin cream?

Unless you’re taking 3.4 ounces or less — the limit for liquids/jells in carry-on bags — pack them in your checked bags this holiday season, or risk leaving them behind.

Jelly beans, jerky or jalapeños? No problem stowing those in your carry-on. Same goes for key lime pie, chocolate raisins and chopsticks.

This according to the Transportation Security Administration’s new, free “My TSA’’ mobile app that includes an alphabetized guide to what types of gifts, gear and goodies travelers can bring with them in carry-on and checked bags.

Whoever thought this one up must have had an appetite.

Click on the suitcase with a question mark under “Can I Bring?’’ and up come TSA’s rules for hundreds of items, from chili sauce to cherry pie.

Type in “Ket,’’ for instance, and find “ketchup’’ flagged with a yellow banner indicating it’s a liquid, and as such, must be packed in checked luggage, unless it’s 3.4 ounces or less, and can fit, along with other liquids you carry-on, in one quart-size plastic bag.

Typing in “Cher’’ brings up instructions for cherry pie (also “Key’’ for Key Lime), both considered “solids’’ that can be packed in carry-on bags — no restrictions on size or weight.

Wondering about snow sports gear? Type in “Sn’’ and find the rules for snow cleats (checked bags only because “sports equipment can be used as a bludgeon’’) and snowboards (OK in checked or carry-on bags).

TSA doesn’t ban wrapped gifts (type in Wr), but if a package triggers an alarm, agents may tear apart the wrapping to take a closer look.

Snow globes (Sn), once banned in carry-ons, are now OK if they’re “tennis-ball” size (3.4 ounces of liquid or less) and fit in the quart-size plastic bag.

Access the mobile web version of My TSA at or download the app on iTunes or Google Play.

Holiday travelers without devices can find all of this information and more at

Defensive traveling is the best strategy for anyone flying over the holidays. Planes, and airports, will be full. Storms could trigger delays and cancellations.

At Sea-Tac Airport, travelers are free to use any security checkpoint, so pick the one with the shortest line.

Brace for crowds at Sea-Tac and beyond. The busiest days at Sea-Tac are expected to be, in order, Thursday, Dec. 20; Friday, Dec. 21; Wednesday, Dec. 19; and Saturday, Dec. 23, when the numbers of passengers passing through will average close to 100,000 daily.

Before leaving, download your airline’s app to your smartphone and sign up for its Twitter feed.

Joe Brancatelli, publisher of the business travel newsletter,, has compiled a list of airline websites and twitter handles at .

Brancatelli advises calling an airline’s overseas reservations offices if there’s a storm emergency and you can’t get through to agents locally. Jot down the numbers ahead of time from airline websites.

Rather than pay penalties for bumping passengers from overbooked flights, airlines ask for volunteers willing to take a later flight. The carriers throw in perks such as vouchers for future travel, meals, hotel rooms and first-class upgrades.

This can be a sweet deal if you’re flexible, but you’ll need to act quickly. Think about how you might deal with a last-minute change. Travel with a carry-on only to avoid hassles with luggage transfers.

TSA’s app has a feature that monitors wait times at security checkpoints, but it isn’t all that useful mainly because it relies on passengers to share that information. Some of the info was days old when I checked.

Carol Pucci is a Seattle freelance writer. Contact her at Web/blog:

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About Travel Wise

Travel Wise is aimed at helping people travel smart, especially independent travelers seeking good value. The column covers everything from the best resources to how to tap into the local culture. It runs each Sunday in the Travel section.