IntereSSSSting: Did I Find A Way To Get Around Secondary Screening?

Filed Under: Security/TSA

Since the beginning of 2017, my airport experience has gotten significantly less pleasant. Specifically I seem to be on some sort of a list. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, given the number of countries I travel to. Heck, I suppose I’m surprised it took this long for my activity to look suspicious to the government.

Because I’m on whatever list, my boarding pass always has an “SSSS” on it, which means I receive a thorough secondary screening.


I’ve started the process of trying to appeal this by requesting a Redress number. Essentially you can fill out a form to get your name cleared, and then in theory you’ll be given a Redress number, which should help going forward. While I’ve started the process, apparently it can take a couple of months for the application to even be reviewed, so I’m not expecting immediate results.

So I was expecting to have this issue for a while, though much to my surprise I checked in for an EVA Air flight this morning out of the U.S. and didn’t have an “SSSS” on my boarding pass. This made me wonder:

  • For all the trips I’ve taken since the problem started, I’ve entered my Known Traveler Number (which typically gets you TSA Pre-Check); in a way, I was voluntarily self identifying
  • Since this ticket was on EVA Air, I didn’t enter my Known Traveler Number (they’re not part of Pre-Check), and also didn’t put my middle name on the ticket (because with international carriers I find it’s unnecessary); however, I had the same passport info, date of birth, etc.

My assumption was that since I’m on some sort of a list, they’re able to track me regardless of whether or not I put my Known Traveler Number on a reservation (given that for many airlines that’s not even an option). However, that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least not here… which is puzzling.

So did I just luck out? Did I somehow already get off this “list?” Or is avoiding a secondary really as easy as not entering your Known Traveler Number and middle name?

  1. Im going on China Airlines Premium Economy in March. Would like to hear how EVA is. China airlines Premium Economy earns 20% Delta MQD so for $1100 round trip JFK-BKK I get $3800 MQDs!!!

  2. Interesting. I doubt it’s the middle name thing, as you said leaving it off is not a big deal for international airlines. But you could do a little experimenting. On your next international carrier bookings, try including your KTN but not your middle name on one flight. Then on the next, include your middle name but no KTN. And of course book one flight and include both. Sounds like a lot of work, but I figure you travel enough to make it happen 🙂 I’m very curious to know if there is any effect, if at all.

  3. We applied for a Redress number for my husband about the middle of December and just received the letter with number last week. We’ll see if this makes any difference when we fly to UK and back next month.

  4. I am no expert on this matter, but when some goverment says it can take a couple of months for some application to be reviewed, then the system is built wrong. Nothing on this planet takes that long and why would anyone even need to review it. Build a good computer program that can investigate whether or not a person is on any goverment agency watchlist. Done and start educating TSA to do a proper job instead.

  5. What if it’s just a coincidence that you were not SSSSed this time? In other words, are we sure that there is a causal relationship between not entering the Known Traveler Number/Middle Name and not being SSSSed?

  6. Lucky,

    Curious to hear your thoughts: Up until last Friday I had never been SSSS’d. Then, on my return trip from Heathrow to the US I got the dreaded SSSS on my boarding pass. Nothing unusual about the itinerary – 3 days in London for work (unless TSA / DHS deems a Monday – Friday trip to the UK out of the ordinary). However, one thing I thought of us that a week before this trip I was prelim approved for and scheduled my Global Entry interview for late February. Is there any chance DHS used SSSS as an opportunity for a “Live Screening” of someone going for Global Entry?

  7. @Hosea You are so welcome! I’m glad it was helpful since you didn’t pay attention the first time you read!

  8. Has anyone had any issue with their Pre-Check not going through for a few flights, THEN winding up on the SSSS list? Happened to me recently, thought I’m not sure they’re connected. Probably the whole flying from Ankara to Lithuania the day after the Russian ambassador was assassinated, but then again, who knows?

  9. Pretty sure it’s not the middle name. The government watchlists generally match on first and last name only since middle names aren’t required or collected by all airlines. So any monitoring would be first name, last name, passport number and known traveler number.

  10. @Max

    Under the “make America great again” Orwellian reality, a Mon-Fri trip to the UK can be seen as extremely suspicious, specially depending on your last name/ethnicity.

  11. @Hosea — Don’t mention it. Repeated questions are just meant to ask it was worth a post with n = 1… 😉

  12. Hi Lucky

    There are many reports that visiting certain countries will earn you SSSS’s on your BPs for several months. Just as suddenly as they appear, they will stop appearing.

    For me and my family, it was a 1 way ticket from Turkey back to the US – after which, we had SSSSs on our BPs for 3-4 months, and then never again.


  13. The no-fly / screening / Palantir tech doesn’t care if you enter your KTN or not. It either correctly matches you against who they think you are or it doesn’t. I very much doubt you beat the system by giving it less info. More likely the voodoo algorithm doesn’t see you as a passenger of concern, especially when coupled with your current destination.

  14. DCS and Hosea – Please continue conversing with each other – You can never let the other person have the last word!

    It is like watching two alexas talking to each other..

  15. @Ben

    Is your middle name on your passport? If so, your SecureFlight information was updated with your middle name and re-transmitted to SecureFlight when your passport was swiped whether you included it on the reservation or not. Which passport did you use? EU or US? If EU, that would be more likely to confuse SecureFlight and hide your identity from the “Rules-Based Watchlist” you are on. More likely something else is in play though– perhaps a like a coincidence– like the TRIP worked or your presence on the “Rules-Based Watchlist” expired or the criteria was modified.

  16. Interestingly to note… I actually had SSSS on an EVA flight from TPE-LAX last September. I was a little worried about what would happen since I wasn’t even stateside, but the SSSS experience in Taiwan was very pleasant compared to that in the states, and literally consisted of a security personnel asking me to turn on my phone.

  17. My son is on SSSS list for the past two years and it does not go away. Surprisingly it is only on the way back entering US but never the other way round. He is US citizen with global entry. He just applied for redress number hoping this will fix the problem.

  18. I don’t believe the middle name or KTN changes would eliminate your security issue – you’re probably off the list for now.

  19. @GolfPapa — LOL. It seems that you’re the one craving the last word! I made a comment, @Hosea commented on my comment, I responded and that was it. What’s your beef?!


  20. @DCS There you go again, making sure you have the last word.

    Oh wait, but now you don’t anymore, so you are going to have to post another comment. 😉

  21. I had the dreaded SSSS on my last three flights last year from Germany to the US. Never the other way around. Since I’m mainly connecting at CLT, the SSSS is usually on both boarding passes (FRA-CLT and then onwards from CLT) when checking in in Germany. And no TSA-Pre off course under these circumstances on the second boarding pass in the US… I can smell it happening when checking in online and getting the error message already…
    SSSS screening in FRA is slow and usually unprofessional in my opinion as most of the airport is too.
    But I discovered something weird but nice last flight:
    When I entered the US after Global entry and customs i was able to download my second boarding pass (finally!!!!) from the app (AA in that case) again. And that boarding pass showed TSA-Pre then and no SSSS!! Ha! So i kept my printed SSSS Pass in my carry-on and went through TSA-Pre and on to my connecting flight.
    Everything worked fine and no one complained.
    Im looking forward to the next flight soon to see if I’m still getting SSSSed

  22. Are you saying they still actually PRINT the SSSS on your boarding pass? That has to be the dumbest thing ever. They are telling you (or a real bad guy) that he is about to go through extra screening. And that tells him to remove any of the “bad stuff” from his bag/person.

    This is our security system?

  23. @lucky. — DCS at 4:48pm is an impostor claiming to be me, the real thing, and should be banned before the practice proliferates and makes a mockery of your blog. You know who IT is. Please admonish or rid of IT.

    Thank you.

  24. I just got the dreaded SSSS on Saturday returning from AMS, then couldn’t get pre-check on the connecting flight even with global services intervention. I fly 300-500k miles/yr and have only had SSSS once before several years ago. I think there may be something up with this whole travel ban into USA as there were a bunch of us at AMS that had to go through the invasive cavity check before boarding.

  25. The previous comment under my name must have been made by a follower of mine. Didn’t know I had any! I think he may have overdone his impersonation…I like to think I don’t take myself THAT seriously. I give it an A for effort though!

  26. I have SSSS for about 4 years after I gone for guided touring in Iran, Lebanon and Turkey. SSSS only appears on tickets which are going to the U.S. it might be the system glitch it’s only working one way

  27. Is this the beginning of the violation and proliferation of the most basic ethical standard of online discussion boards, which says that a poster should not comment under another’s name? Who is stop me from posting as, e.g., “Robert Hanson”. It is a dangerous practice that gets posters banned elsewhere for obvious reasons and needs to be stopped right now because some unhinged commenter[s] here, ladies and gentlemen, think[s] it’s kosher or cool and will probably continue to do it unless called out on it or banned.

    An imposter and DCS impersonator just wrote this:

    “DCS says:
    February 8, 2017 at 10:31 pm

    The previous comment under my name must have been made by a follower of mine. Didn’t know I had any! I think he may have overdone his impersonation…I like to think I don’t take myself THAT seriously. I give it an A for effort though!”

    @Lucky — It’s your site. Only you can do something about this blatant breach of a very important standard.

    I will not post on this thread again. Any additional comments pretending to be from DCS will be an impostor’s

    [BTW, I am suspecting it is YOU, because only one poster has been unhinged enough to engage in a stunt like this and think it’s kosher or funny.]


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