What Does “SSSS” On Your Boarding Pass Mean?

What Does “SSSS” On Your Boarding Pass Mean?

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Have you ever had an “SSSS” on your boarding pass when taking a flight with an airline? In this post I wanted to take a detailed look at the significance of that. In some cases this isn’t a big deal at all, while in other cases you may have landed on some sort of a list, and get it on every flight, until you get it resolved (as happened to me back in 2017).

What does “SSSS” on a boarding pass stand for?

“SSSS” stands for secondary security screening selection. I’m not sure if the TSA came up with the abbreviation first and then came up with words to justify it, or if it was the other way around. Simply put, an “SSSS” on your boarding pass means that you’re getting an extra thorough search when you go through security.

What causes someone to get “SSSS” on their boarding pass?

There are a variety of things that can cause you to get selected for secondary security screening. Based on my understanding:

  • Sometimes it’s because the specific itinerary you’re on is unusual; this could include flights booked last minute, international one-way tickets, travel originating in “high-risk” countries, etc.
  • Sometimes it’s because you’re on some sort of a list; I have no clue what causes people to get on lists, though I suspect for some people it’s because of their travel patterns, for others it’s because of their names, and for others it’s because they’re being watched more carefully for whatever reason
  • Sometimes it’s completely random, and you have nothing to worry about

As a very frequent flyer, I’d say that nowadays I get “SSSS” on my boarding pass maybe a few times per year, typically on one-way international itineraries.

However, in 2017 I was getting additional screening every single time I flew. I suspect this was because of my unusual travel patterns (I traveled to some “suspicious” countries, booked a lot of one-way international flights, etc.).

Are there any signs that you’ll be subjected to additional security?

There’s no way to know when you book whether you’ll get the dreaded “SSSS.” However, if you’re going to get it, you generally won’t be able to load a mobile boarding pass, or print your boarding pass at home. Instead you’ll get an error message saying that you’ll only be able to print your boarding pass at the airport.

To be clear, just because you get that message doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get extra screening. You could also get a message about not being able to get your boarding pass in advance for a number of other reasons, especially with the complicated travel restrictions nowadays. You’ll know for sure when you print your boarding pass at the airport, and see the “SSSS” on it.

An “SSSS” boarding pass

What is the secondary screening process like?

What should you expect at security if your boarding pass has “SSSS” on it? I’ll share my experience based on the last time I dealt with this in the United States, which admittedly goes back a while.

When the initial TSA agent scans your boarding pass, it will make a loud beep and a red light will illuminate. The agent will radio for a supervisor and say they have a “quad” (which I guess is the codeword for “SSSS,” with the “quad” referring to the four letters).

The TSA agent will tell you “the airline has randomly selected you for additional screening” (which is a lie), and ask you to step to the side. A TSA lead or supervisor (someone with two or three stripes on their uniform) will show up eventually and escort you to a separate lane. In my experience, they’ll typically close a lane in order for you to be screened. At a minimum, they’ll put two upside down bins around your items to separate them from everyone else’s.

The good news is that you get to cut the rest of the line, so if there are people waiting, you cut ahead of everyone. It’s the only positive aspect of the experience. 😉

Then you’ll be asked to walk through the metal detector, and then back again. Then you’ll be asked to go through the full body scanner. Then you’ll get a full body pat down (which you can choose to have in private if you want). The agent will pat down every inch of your body, from your waistline to the area around your crotch. The fact that they scan your body in three ways seems like a slight overkill to me, but whatever…

At this point, there will typically be at least two TSA agents involved, if not three. One will search every inch of your belongings. Not only will they look at everything, but they’ll swab your items to check them for any residue. They’ll also ask you to power on your electronics. They just need to make sure that they can turn on, so be sure you have battery power for all your electronics.

Expect extra screening if you get “SSSS”

Meanwhile, typically the supervisor will take a picture of your boarding pass and ID, fill out a form, and then eventually stamp your boarding pass to indicate that you’ve been screened.

A stamped “SSSS” boarding pass

This is an important point, because when you get to the gate your boarding pass will “alarm” once again, at which point the gate agent will check to make sure the TSA “stamp” is on there. If you don’t have it then they’ll have to call the TSA to the gate. The entire screening process takes anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes, in my experience, depending on how efficient the people screening you are.

Note that you can also get a secondary search at the gate on a US-bound flight. I find that the screening process there typically isn’t quite as invasive or time consuming.

I always have a good attitude during the process. It’s not the TSA’s fault, and the agent isn’t any happier about having to perform the secondary search than I am. I’ve also dealt with some really uneducated TSA agents during the process. For example, one time the guy searching my bag found my passports, and thought they were fraudulent, because I have both a United States and German one. He didn’t understand the concept of dual citizenship.

Can you get “SSSS” if you have TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is a fantastic program whereby enrolled travelers can get expedited airport screening. How does that work in relation to the “SSSS” issue?

  • You can get “SSSS” even if you’re enrolled in TSA PreCheck
  • If you do get “SSSS,” then you won’t receive TSA PreCheck for the itinerary where you were chosen for secondary screening
You won’t get TSA PreCheck on itineraries where you get secondary

What can you do if you frequently get “SSSS?”

If you only get an “SSSS” on your boarding pass on one trip, you have nothing to worry about. As I said, I randomly get it every so often, and that’s totally normal. However, if you get this designation several trips in a row, you can assume you’re on some sort of a list.

Don’t worry, it’s not a huge deal, your life isn’t over. The way you’ll want to address this is by applying for a Redress Number. You can do so through the DHS TRIP program, which stands for Traveler Redress Inquiry Program. There you just fill out basic details sharing what you think the problem is, and then that should be investigated and hopefully resolved.

I applied for a Redress Number back in 2017, and about a month later my case was reviewed and resolved. I haven’t had any major issues since.

Bottom line

Getting the dreaded “SSSS” on your boarding pass sure can be a pain. It’ll add quite a bit of time to the screening process, and is invasive, as they’ll touch every inch of you and your bag. If you just get this as a one-off thing, don’t be worried. However, if you get this several times in a row, there’s a chance you’re on some sort of a list, and may want to start the DHS TRIP process.

If you’ve gone through secondary screening in the United States, what was your experience like?

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  1. Tee Sparkman Guest

    Just drive to a destination. Flying after 2001 is such a hassle. 2 hour check ins, invasive body pat downs, intrusive bag searches... no thanks

  2. Lindsey Soliday Guest

    My experience was much different, but I was in French Polynesia, so there is that. They had me go through the scanner like everyone else, then waved me aside and patted me down. They had an agent hovering over my luggage at the end of the counter and asked if they were all mine. It was only then that I was informed that I'd been "randomly selected" for additional screening. They took me and my...

    My experience was much different, but I was in French Polynesia, so there is that. They had me go through the scanner like everyone else, then waved me aside and patted me down. They had an agent hovering over my luggage at the end of the counter and asked if they were all mine. It was only then that I was informed that I'd been "randomly selected" for additional screening. They took me and my stuff into another room, patted me down again and went through my stuff. I had no idea what was going on and asked if I was in trouble, and they were like, "No, no, it's because the TSA put this SSSS on your boarding pass." No lights went off, but there were a LOT of knowing looks at each other when I went to board the plane. Immediately after they scanned my boarding pass at the gate, I was stopped by another airport security person asking if I had been given any bags or bought anything before TSA. I'm thinking this is also because of the SSSS but apparently they ask everybody leaving that particular country. Every time someone approached me, I was afraid there would be more "additional screening". I was traveling alone and had no clue what was happening. It's good to know this is a normal thing. Good to know for next time.

  3. Lukas Guest

    I just got one in London, I upgraded (no connection with SSSS) from PE to business and the dreaded SSSS was still on the new boarding pass (just in case someone wants to upgrade put of it) - it was 3min procedure, all people very professional, looking in the fact I went for the random “sniffer” check both in my port of origin and LHR transfer, it was just third iterration of the same (pointless)...

    I just got one in London, I upgraded (no connection with SSSS) from PE to business and the dreaded SSSS was still on the new boarding pass (just in case someone wants to upgrade put of it) - it was 3min procedure, all people very professional, looking in the fact I went for the random “sniffer” check both in my port of origin and LHR transfer, it was just third iterration of the same (pointless) process in the same day. Anyways, people were nice and delay zero to none. Its just SSSS, not SS ;)

  4. Jan Guest

    I'm 74 and fly with medical issues. We book wheelchairs. I fly to London several times a year. This SSSS on my ticket is ridiculous. I've been flying this route for 40 years.. it has to stop.

  5. Amy Guest

    I got SSSS coming back from Spain a few years ago. I had to empty my bag and she also checked my belly and back for explosives. I had to lift my shirt exposing my belly and back half way up for the lady to check me. It was very embarrassing because it was done in a public area with men around looking at my belly. I am very nervous about exposing my body to strangers, and this should have been done in private.

  6. Liv Guest

    I got ssss few days ago in Punta Cana, didn’t know what it mean, but only what happened was to take off my shoes

  7. Hermann HTG Guest

    I can't even count how many times I got the SSSS but I was never sent to secondary screening or had any other issue during boarding. Really weird...

  8. STEVEN M. Guest

    Had my travel arranged by the US Marshals Service,many years ago. Back then, it was Q's. I was flying out of SLC and had a CLEAR Card. I already knew I was going to be subjected to a secondary. The TSA Rep thought he got one of the top ten
    FBI wanted fugitives.

    He was tearing through my carry-on, while he had me sit and watch. After about 10 minutes, a TSA Supervisor...

    Had my travel arranged by the US Marshals Service,many years ago. Back then, it was Q's. I was flying out of SLC and had a CLEAR Card. I already knew I was going to be subjected to a secondary. The TSA Rep thought he got one of the top ten
    FBI wanted fugitives.

    He was tearing through my carry-on, while he had me sit and watch. After about 10 minutes, a TSA Supervisor and someone from CLEAR came down and apologized to me.

    They asked why I was so calm about it and already knew that the USMS has a sense of humor, of sorts.

    These poor guys at TSA probably get enough abuse from passengers. They are there to do a thankless job.

    The trick to success is diplomacy and communication. As people,even they can have a bad day, too.

  9. Deepali Guest

    Hi I am a ground staff at Delhi airport yes u r ryt it's random check from custom every airline menifest where every pax name n past port number is given they marked randomly sometimes very rare case they have some information about that pax so they marked but very rare n they just ask u 2-3 question n SSS it's we r giving on ur boarding pass so that we can't forget that we...

    Hi I am a ground staff at Delhi airport yes u r ryt it's random check from custom every airline menifest where every pax name n past port number is given they marked randomly sometimes very rare case they have some information about that pax so they marked but very rare n they just ask u 2-3 question n SSS it's we r giving on ur boarding pass so that we can't forget that we have to send that person to custom otherwise it will be a big problem for pax as well us also that's why we give This on ur boarding pass

  10. Denise Guest

    I really wish people would stop thinking that SSSS is discrimination against Muslims. I am not Muslim amd my name doesn't sound "muslim", yet I get picked a lot. It truly is a random process. I traveled very frequently when I was in medical school and I ended up on the SSSS list almost every other time that I flew. Maybe because I flew alone so much? Who knows.
    The most recent time I...

    I really wish people would stop thinking that SSSS is discrimination against Muslims. I am not Muslim amd my name doesn't sound "muslim", yet I get picked a lot. It truly is a random process. I traveled very frequently when I was in medical school and I ended up on the SSSS list almost every other time that I flew. Maybe because I flew alone so much? Who knows.
    The most recent time I was chosen, my son was two and a half, so he had to watch because he didn't want to leave my side. Lol.
    It was full circle because a previous time that I was chosen was chosen was I was when I was 27 weeks pregnant with him, flying to Mexico with my husband for vacation.
    They actually pulled me off of the plane for that one. Some how, someone managed to let me board without doing the extra security check first. The TSA agents were nice and apologetic. I felt bad walking through the aisle bumping people with my very visible belly and delaying take off for my additional security check. Lol.
    I am never angry when I get picked and it is all good in the name of safety.

  11. dissin Guest

    I got several of these when I was a "LEO" (Law Enforcement Officer) after going around TSA at the airport to fly armed. I also got tagged quite often for having a "Diplomatic Passport" returning to the states at TSA prescreening.

  12. Emma Guest

    I think that it's nonsense. I had a very unpleasant experience on that random search in Madrid. I questioned them because I didn't know anything about it. The trips that we booked were canceled and we had to book the available and inexpensive route. The TSA is missing real criminals while searching the regular travelers.

  13. Steve Guest

    This happened to me at the airport in Reykjavik, Iceland. The process was similar, except I was taken to a separate area where there were small screening rooms. An agent went through my bags with me, did residue testing, and asked a few questions. It was a pain, but everyone was pleasant, polite, and professional.

  14. Mindy Guest

    I’ve gotten this because of my global entry when flying back into the US from abroad (at the gate before boarding to fly back). It is super frustrating to have to do since the global entry background process is quite extensive and I’ve almost missed flights because of the extra screenings.

  15. Rebecca Thornley Guest

    These checks do include random checks. This is not a lie. I am an airline crewmember and even in the crew line we are, at times, selected for extra security check and redirected to the public lane to have this completed

  16. EMatlock Guest

    Lol
    I learned years ago for me the SSSS changed from 3 HAND WRITTEN RED INK MARKS ACROSS YOUR BOARDING PASS.
    Since 9-11 I traveled with my mom and sister sometimes other friends or family to Las Vegas, Nevada from Dallas Ft. Worth , Texas no matter if it was the 3 of us or 5 of us. I was always ( The Chosen One). Only me. One bag or all the bags...

    Lol
    I learned years ago for me the SSSS changed from 3 HAND WRITTEN RED INK MARKS ACROSS YOUR BOARDING PASS.
    Since 9-11 I traveled with my mom and sister sometimes other friends or family to Las Vegas, Nevada from Dallas Ft. Worth , Texas no matter if it was the 3 of us or 5 of us. I was always ( The Chosen One). Only me. One bag or all the bags (I had just tagged with my info. Because it was faster. Lol). When the SSSS began I said look they have decided. ( See She's So Special). and finally in 2020 I was not chosen any more and my feelings were hurt. This being chosen was leaving Dallas and then coming back too. I have been screened from the first security check to escorted to the CT Scanner and the at the actual loading Gate. I have never been detained or had any known reason to be thought of as a threat.
    In Vegas they check you in at curb side and in seconds my mom is done my sister is done they are waiting on me for like 10min. The person checking me in is inputting info in his computer. Then more hesitate hesitate then when I say yes I know I am the Chosen one he says You Know. Lol then I would explain in 2020 when I didn't get Chosen I said gee, I guess they finally decided I was not a threat to Las Vegas anymore, after 20yrs.

  17. Starke Guest

    It means you are in for a very long and frustrating day!

  18. Warren Guest

    I think the Koch brothers should always get secondary screening since they continue to do business with the baby killer-mass murderer Putin!!!

  19. Beach Gal Guest

    I get SSSS on every American Airlines flight. Doesn't matter if it domestic or international. No other airline carrier has this issue. I just stopped flying with them all together.

    1. Ice Guest

      Did you try another airline and it was cleared?

  20. Blueblood Bayou Guest

    Good article and almost accurate to a point with the exception of a number of other information included which were not accurate at all. - TSA Agent

    1. Midwest east coast crew Guest

      At my home airport everyone with a carry on gets searched at the gate if the SSSS has a carryon. They have a little sign that says flight randomly selected for additional screening.
      -FLT Ops commuter.

  21. AM Guest

    As a muslim immigrant, I am SSSS almost all the time. Its part of NSA’s racial profiling.

    1. Blueblood Bayou Guest

      100% incorrect perception. They do not care whether you are a Muslim or etc. - TSA Agent

    2. Deepali Guest

      It's not like that sir it's randomly check they don't know each n every pax details if they mark on every flyt or every airport then there is some issue u can ask them but rare case they marked without even knowning the passenger n it's just for few question nthng else. U can't even denied bcz it's custom u have to

  22. David Hamilton Guest

    When this all first started, I too was on “a list”. I tried to get off said list. Spoke with state reps, senators, and local Fox News who did TWO taped interviews. They put me in touch with a TSA ombudsman who did absolutely nothing.

    Problem solved by a gate agent. She suggested I spell out my full middle name instead of an initial. Haven’t had an issue since!

  23. Kim Guest

    The secondary screening experience was invasive. The grabbing and searching of my crotch was traumatic and I didn't fly for a year. LAX is a miserable experience anyway and after a long flight from New Zealand it was horrible.

    1. Blueblood Bayou Guest

      A "necessary evil" that must be conducted after what went on in the past. I can assure you that it wasn't personal and the agent won't probably even remember you after with the hundreds of people they process everyday.- TSA Agent

  24. Lkmk Guest

    Did you change anything from the previous post?

  25. No name Guest

    4s kinda sounds like double SS. An inadvertent admission by TSA?

    1. Blueblood Bayou Guest

      Not at all. The SSSS is just an SSSS. Face value. - TSA Agent

  26. wandedguy Guest

    The one and only time I got SSSS was 2 years ago leaving TPE to the US. I know exactly why I was selected. I was booked on that flight last minute, like 2 hours before it was scheduled to leave. All they did was wand me.

  27. Kat Guest

    My husband was put on the list when it started. The first screening in New Orleans he had to go into a separate room and disrobe. Flying out of Montreal the screener was rude, making fun of his western accent. Obviously he didn't know what he was to do just asked a bunch of questions. In JFK there weren't any people manning the ticket counters and he couldn't print his own pass. We finally went...

    My husband was put on the list when it started. The first screening in New Orleans he had to go into a separate room and disrobe. Flying out of Montreal the screener was rude, making fun of his western accent. Obviously he didn't know what he was to do just asked a bunch of questions. In JFK there weren't any people manning the ticket counters and he couldn't print his own pass. We finally went to a first class counter when a person showed up. It was a real pain, but the redress process worked.

  28. efembe Guest

    I'm always pleased to get this, as it normally means I get to bypass the long lines, plus I don't have to virtually undress to get through Security.

  29. Terri Guest

    My first time flying BA first to DFW from LHR I was chosen and was stopped at the gate. They checked my carry on but not my handbag! My title began with ‘Lady’ rather than ‘Mrs’. So I think this was a name thing! My ‘Lady’ title was a fun gift, from my daughter, that you can buy so I’m nowhere on the internet or any posh lists. Bet they wondered who I actually was!!! . Changed back to plain ‘Mrs’ now so I’m inconspicuous. :-).

  30. Alan Gold

    My girlfriend is on the dreaded list. You failed to mention the absolute worst aspect. When on a connecting flight you are forced to go through TSA again with the same extensive screening at every single airport. We did not know this and only found out when we approached the gate in Houston; we had flown from Laredo, TX. We almost missed the flight. If you find urself on the list make sure your connecting...

    My girlfriend is on the dreaded list. You failed to mention the absolute worst aspect. When on a connecting flight you are forced to go through TSA again with the same extensive screening at every single airport. We did not know this and only found out when we approached the gate in Houston; we had flown from Laredo, TX. We almost missed the flight. If you find urself on the list make sure your connecting flights are several hours apart - u will never make a quick connection

  31. Holly Stuckey Guest

    My husband is in a wheelchair and every time we fly they pat him down, have him lean forward in his chair, use the cloth wand, etc. On our last trip they took him to a separate room as if he was smuggling drugs. I was furious! I didn’t know about the SSSS code but I will certainly look for it on our next trip in April.

    1. Blueblood Bayou Guest

      The whole patdown, leaning forward and backward, wheelchair check, and the hand held metal detector check is just a normal procedure. He was probably wearing a cast or some type of medical device at that time, and when they performed the swab, there was probably an alarm, so a secondary patdown has to be conducted including a property search. He was probably asked as well if he would like the second pat down to be...

      The whole patdown, leaning forward and backward, wheelchair check, and the hand held metal detector check is just a normal procedure. He was probably wearing a cast or some type of medical device at that time, and when they performed the swab, there was probably an alarm, so a secondary patdown has to be conducted including a property search. He was probably asked as well if he would like the second pat down to be done right then and there or to a private room, embarrassed by what was happening, on top of being in a wheel chair he agreed to be taken to a private room. All regular procedure. - TSA Agent

  32. classicyesfan Guest

    Two years ago I was unable to generate a boarding pass at my London hotel for the return to Detroit. Of course the reason was that I had been flagged with the dreaded SSSS. The hotel clerk told me that it "happens all the time" and knew what was likely to happen.

    It really was an unpleasant experience because the screening at Heathrow was done in a small glassed-in partition inside the large passenger's waiting...

    Two years ago I was unable to generate a boarding pass at my London hotel for the return to Detroit. Of course the reason was that I had been flagged with the dreaded SSSS. The hotel clerk told me that it "happens all the time" and knew what was likely to happen.

    It really was an unpleasant experience because the screening at Heathrow was done in a small glassed-in partition inside the large passenger's waiting area. Everyone waiting is watching what goes on behind the glass. I was rather taken aback when they told me to lift my shirt in front of that audience. Fortunately I am in fine shape but it's still rather embarrassing. Should it happen again I think I will ask for the more private option. The worst part is that we travel carry on only which means I had scientifically fit as much as I possibly could into my carry on and personal bags. They made me take out each item one by one and even examined inside my camera's cleaning tissues. It took me a very long time to get everything to fit again. They kept pushing my items over the edge of the table which made me take even longer repacking. The line for SSSS was becoming longer and longer. I felt bad for the screeners doing such an unpleasant unrewarding job.

    The experience was made worse because our original flight had been canceled due to weather (most of the flights that morning were canceled) and we lost our comfort plus seats and could only get economy bulkhead seats on the next available flight 6 hours later. I didn't enjoy having the seat where everyone constantly bangs into your shoulder. Luckily we had arrived early enough to be among the few people who could get the next available so we were thankful for that. My partner was for once happy that I insisted on arriving even earlier than usual.

    It was a long frustrating day. Now I dread having to repack my carry on in a hurry again.

  33. Flygirl Guest

    It existed before TSA did. It was a list of 7 or 8 passport holders from countries that were Enemies Of State, bought Tix in 24 hours, paid cash, were one way. A lady laid into me last night about this very issue. It is now controlled by CBP. It used to be airline responsibility before 9/11 and was done w Sharpies. It’s the passengers passport and travel profile..

  34. Raymond OSullivan Guest

    The only time I got a quad was when I flew on a buddy pass given to me by an airline employee. We used to call it Specially Selected for Strip Search

  35. Stan Loveday Guest

    I do a lot of medical evacuations world wide. I have been aware of this for over 30 yrs. I do a lot of one way, no baggage flights to medical issue returns. So this is nothing new. So I am more than welcome the extra security that is imposed.

  36. JeffS Guest

    How I miss the old SLC….

  37. Robert Guest

    It’s happened to me one time. I was taken down a hall to a room. It had a baggage scanner and a body scanner. It was about 10 times faster then regular security.

  38. AVGeekHNL New Member

    My wife has TSA Precheck, and I have Global Entry. We generally fly the same itinerary. She gets SSSS couple times a year (or more), I never get SSSS. Don't know why. One problem with the SSSS is that we go into the Precheck line routinely, so we don't look at the ticket for the SSSS. Only when we get to the head of the line and when the TSA Agent says to my wife...

    My wife has TSA Precheck, and I have Global Entry. We generally fly the same itinerary. She gets SSSS couple times a year (or more), I never get SSSS. Don't know why. One problem with the SSSS is that we go into the Precheck line routinely, so we don't look at the ticket for the SSSS. Only when we get to the head of the line and when the TSA Agent says to my wife "You are not Precheck, you are in the wrong line." Then she gets sent to the end of the non-TSA Precheck line. Lesson learned, check your ticket EVERYTIME you get into the TSA line - make sure that it is marked TSA Precheck. When time to renew, she will get Global Entry.

  39. Robert Martin Guest

    Only a correction to my recent post. It should have read we DID handle check in and boarding for a charter airline.

  40. Robert Martin Guest

    Just a few comments by ex airline employee, now retired.
    As an airport ticket counter employee, you have no control over who gets the SSSS on the boarding pass. But we didn't handle check-in and boarding for vacation charter airline and that situation was a bit different. Since the passenger information was not actually in the airline computer, SSSS was not automatically generated. We were just told how many passengers to select for the...

    Just a few comments by ex airline employee, now retired.
    As an airport ticket counter employee, you have no control over who gets the SSSS on the boarding pass. But we didn't handle check-in and boarding for vacation charter airline and that situation was a bit different. Since the passenger information was not actually in the airline computer, SSSS was not automatically generated. We were just told how many passengers to select for the extra screening on each flight and we just manually marked those passengers boarding passes at random. So likely those passengers are not ones who have normally been subjected to this.

  41. Mary Guest

    I had the dreaded SSSS a couple of years ago and it was a big deal to me.! Absolutely nothing was explained to me. I was separated from my husband and taken to another room to be searched which included a full pat down. My husband wasn't told where I was or why we had been separated. We are both in our 70's and it was extremely stressful. It only happened once and once was enough. I was so traumatized by the experience that I actually had nightmares afterwards.

    1. Bill Guest

      I feel your pain. Happened to my 12 year old daughter (!?!) on AA from MAD-PHL business class. She and my wife were both separated from me with no way to communicate. We had given ourselves ample time (1.5 hrs from TSA to boarding time) but ended up being the very last ones to board before pushback. The stress ruined my whole trip back.

  42. Morgan Guest

    Leave it to our resident “troll” UA-NYC to make another inappropriate and totally unrelated (to the topic) comment. He never ceases to amaze me and will take any opportunity he can to deliver his liberal agenda.

    1. david Guest

      Pity the poor soul. They had a relapse.

  43. Evlin Guest

    This is very, very old news. I had SSSS on boarding pass 20 plus years ago in CVG (Cincinnati) as destination was Beirut to give medical lecture. Had to go through a separate security line, with no one in it other than my wife and me. They did detailed search of hand luggage, carried out by agent who was one of my patients!
    So SSSS not much to worry about.

  44. Aziza Guest

    Omg, this happened to me. I was going back to Turkey, I was flying out of Orlando airport. However, they didn't know I also had a 1-year residency ID. Card for turkey‍♀️. I only spent one week in the USA, Florida, and had to go back to Turkey. I'm scared again because I have to fly to my husband's country Algeria so I know I might get SSSS on my boarding pass due to me...

    Omg, this happened to me. I was going back to Turkey, I was flying out of Orlando airport. However, they didn't know I also had a 1-year residency ID. Card for turkey‍♀️. I only spent one week in the USA, Florida, and had to go back to Turkey. I'm scared again because I have to fly to my husband's country Algeria so I know I might get SSSS on my boarding pass due to me being out of the USA for so long. When I came back to the USA I was asked how long have I been out of the USA and do I have a job from passport control. The good thing is once you fly out of the USA you don't have to go through another intense security check. It would be nice to know what list I'm on lol

  45. Ryan Guest

    Several years ago coming back to the US having visited Turkey was grilled at LAX for a good hour then enjoyed an entire summer of the dreaded SSSS! Had pre-check and GE, but whenever I couldn't check in for my flight I knew in advance I caught another SSSS.

    So after learning that pattern I just skipped to the front of line, told them I was "quad-S" and they would print my pass and...

    Several years ago coming back to the US having visited Turkey was grilled at LAX for a good hour then enjoyed an entire summer of the dreaded SSSS! Had pre-check and GE, but whenever I couldn't check in for my flight I knew in advance I caught another SSSS.

    So after learning that pattern I just skipped to the front of line, told them I was "quad-S" and they would print my pass and walk me to the front of security. Wasn't half bad really once I knew how to deal with it. And who doesn't love a good cavity search from a stranger?

    1. HoKo Guest

      Did you try getting a redress number?

  46. Longname Magoo Guest

    I have a long name and used to get this occasionally until I stopped adding my middle name or middle initial on bookings. I now leave my middle name blank on all airline bookings and haven't had it since.
    My guess is that some system would truncate the name, and then it wouldn't match passport details.

  47. UA-NYC Diamond

    Would love for all the Trump Terrorists at the Jan 6 insurrection to have SSSS for life with no chance of redress.

  48. David Diamond

    Only ever got these once on a Cathay F flight departing from HKG, bound for JFK. The process was a lot less intrusive than what you described. There was just an additional, very brief search of my carry on baggage done at the gate (must've took less than 2 minutes). From the description getting it in the US sounds terrible.

  49. B x Guest

    As a TSA agent told me years ago--"looks like you're going to be our ssssssssspecial friend today!" For a few years, I got selected every single time I flew. Lately, it has been much less frequent. I guess I'm not viewed as much of a threat these days. Not sure how I should feel about that.

  50. Terri Bhatt Guest

    I have had this several times, once when I was flying from Vermont to Virginia! Definitely not long distance by any means. They swabbed my cheeks for gunpowder residue I guess every search under the sun including all the bags. Turned out we had bought some cheese at the Vermont cheese factory and apparently that is the same consistency as some explosive. CS three? I also was wearing a blouse with Lynn meaning I think...

    I have had this several times, once when I was flying from Vermont to Virginia! Definitely not long distance by any means. They swabbed my cheeks for gunpowder residue I guess every search under the sun including all the bags. Turned out we had bought some cheese at the Vermont cheese factory and apparently that is the same consistency as some explosive. CS three? I also was wearing a blouse with Lynn meaning I think that might’ve touched off something as well.
    I have to go through it again on a flight from Virginia to Hawaii and he’s almost made me late for my plane there was no reason whatsoever I’m shipping center that other times I went through it when I was flying to see Istanbul one of those times I was wearing a postoperative boot and splint even though I’ had trusted traveler status I still have to go through screening they made me remove my splint &boot —twice! As a senior aged female (caucasian) I hardly coluld imagine anyone thinking I was a threat!! It was infuriating & humiliating.

  51. George Romey Guest

    This became a "thing" not too long after 9/11. It was certainly introduced before the shoe bomber (all shoes off) and the underwear bomber (the large, mainly ineffective nude o scan machines that rotate around you supposedly to find explosives). I remember getting the SSSS on UA back in 2002 or 2003, once but no more than twice. Since then it's never happened to me again. I remember at the time being explained that it...

    This became a "thing" not too long after 9/11. It was certainly introduced before the shoe bomber (all shoes off) and the underwear bomber (the large, mainly ineffective nude o scan machines that rotate around you supposedly to find explosives). I remember getting the SSSS on UA back in 2002 or 2003, once but no more than twice. Since then it's never happened to me again. I remember at the time being explained that it was a random procedure.

    On Pre Check they do have random checks that ring the alarm and you're forced to go through the nude o scan machine.

  52. Burg Guest

    Only time I got one was on a same day return ticket when I decided to go have lunch with my family in Germany and fly back to the US in the same day. I kind of understood why if was flagged, as that was very different from my usual flight pattern.

  53. ernestnywang Member

    I've always wondered if check-in agents can also add SSSS to a pax. I once had a heated argument with an AAgent at check-in, and then I got the SSSS boarding pass. Never had it before and after. That was the only time. Wonder if it was pure coincidence or if it was some sort of retaliation by the AAgent.

  54. pstm91 Diamond

    I think it's important to note that it can happen much more on international journeys. I was worried because I had it on 4 consecutive trips. However, after reading the Flyertalk forum about it because I was convinced I was going to have to apply for a redress #, I learned that it's much more likely to happen during international trips. It's when you have it frequently on US domestic trips that you need worry...

    I think it's important to note that it can happen much more on international journeys. I was worried because I had it on 4 consecutive trips. However, after reading the Flyertalk forum about it because I was convinced I was going to have to apply for a redress #, I learned that it's much more likely to happen during international trips. It's when you have it frequently on US domestic trips that you need worry that you're on a list. Sure enough, I have had several domestic flights since my last SSSS abroad and have not encountered it.

  55. no name Guest

    I am a Muslim immigrant from the middle east and was given one of those "random checks" at the airport flying back home in the US. I was detained for hours after a day long flight, was asked several personal questions that violated my privacy. They asked for my phone password and got a forensic copy of it. Then they let me go. Later on, FBI knocked on my door asking irrelevant questions about an...

    I am a Muslim immigrant from the middle east and was given one of those "random checks" at the airport flying back home in the US. I was detained for hours after a day long flight, was asked several personal questions that violated my privacy. They asked for my phone password and got a forensic copy of it. Then they let me go. Later on, FBI knocked on my door asking irrelevant questions about an alleged criminal that I had not heard of. Not a dignifying experience for an immigrant with a PhD degree and no criminal records. I feel discriminated because of my race and religion. Unfortunately, some Americans are fed by the media propaganda that middle easterns are a threat to their national security.

    1. Blueblood Bayou Guest

      Why do you have to make up that story? TSA and CBP don't care whether you are a Muslim or etc...and certainly will not take a "forensic copy" of your phone. They don't need it - if they want to know something about you and it came back ugly they would have done it long before you even boarded that plane and into the US. You are one of those people posting made up stories...

      Why do you have to make up that story? TSA and CBP don't care whether you are a Muslim or etc...and certainly will not take a "forensic copy" of your phone. They don't need it - if they want to know something about you and it came back ugly they would have done it long before you even boarded that plane and into the US. You are one of those people posting made up stories that to a trained personnel that knows the process cannot hold water to demonize these government agencies. You are part of the negative media propaganda that you were talking about. - TSA Agent

    2. Permanand Seetal Guest

      Getting A SSSS on your boarding pass is irrelevant since you have gone through all the initial screening and ready to board the plane.It make no sensep

  56. Donna Diamond

    I was averaging a trip to Secondary about once a year up until Global Entry was created. Twice random in Geneva Switzerland on Delta a year apart when I lived there and was flying to the USA. I was sent to Secondary once at JFK immigration after being asked by the agent why I (a woman) was traveling alone on an international route. I was slightly insulted by the question but ignored the sexist nature...

    I was averaging a trip to Secondary about once a year up until Global Entry was created. Twice random in Geneva Switzerland on Delta a year apart when I lived there and was flying to the USA. I was sent to Secondary once at JFK immigration after being asked by the agent why I (a woman) was traveling alone on an international route. I was slightly insulted by the question but ignored the sexist nature of it and was polite and said I was on business and showed him my business card. I was sent to Secondary and searched none the less. Once traveling with a colleague who didn’t have Global Entry, attempting to exit through Customs at JFK, I was selected for search but when they looked at my receipt, they sent me through and selected my colleague who was behind me in the line. I rarely get the SSSS on a boarding pass these days.

  57. TimeToTravel Guest

    I got SSSS on a trip I took last month with having TSA Pre✔️. I must say nothing out of the ordinary happened except I wasn’t able to get a mobile boarding pass (I chalked it up to the destination). I did go through extra screening at JFK because I had put my bottled water from the plane in my backpack and I was arriving back in the US. It was actually the agent who...

    I got SSSS on a trip I took last month with having TSA Pre✔️. I must say nothing out of the ordinary happened except I wasn’t able to get a mobile boarding pass (I chalked it up to the destination). I did go through extra screening at JFK because I had put my bottled water from the plane in my backpack and I was arriving back in the US. It was actually the agent who checked my bag that point out the SSSS. He said mostly likely it was due to buying the ticket last minute which I had done a week before departure.

    1. Blueblood Bayou Guest

      So, the experience your'e telling was with CBP and not with TSA. Right? A global entry ID don't mean much to TSA. It is treated just like any other identification and will not give you a free pass, so if you get selected for random, you will be sent for random. The conversation you've had with the agent was probably something out of the blue and the agent's way to strike a conversation with you....

      So, the experience your'e telling was with CBP and not with TSA. Right? A global entry ID don't mean much to TSA. It is treated just like any other identification and will not give you a free pass, so if you get selected for random, you will be sent for random. The conversation you've had with the agent was probably something out of the blue and the agent's way to strike a conversation with you. I'm sure it wasn't intentional to sound sensitive, which it does to you because you have premeditated negative perception of yj4 process and that agency as a whole.

  58. Travel for Work Guest

    We called it the “Super Secret Strip Search”

  59. Never In Doubt Guest

    My last SSSS was indeed on a one way ticket LHR-IAD.

    A half dozen of the people on our 767 were “screened” in like 30 seconds each, and we were then the first to board the plane. SSSS premier boarding!

  60. Motion to Dismiss Member

    I've gotten SSSS 3-4 times over the last few years, though only ever on flights to the US, not departing the US. It was never as invasive as Ben describes, which is in keeping with his comment that the procedure tends to be less extensive at foreign airports before flights to the US.

    I noticed a big decline in the frequency I'd get SSSS after getting Global Entry.

  61. guisun Gold

    I used to get SSSS every single time when re-entering US. The immigration secondary screening was very extensive, a 30 minute interrogation. They go as far back as how my father got to immigrate to US (visa type), which I have no clue.
    Then I did the redress thing, and that stopped, like it dropped to 0. I never had another SSSS for 10+ years? Until I had a flight back to US on LOT, which does not accept redress or KTN number. I immediately get flagged for SSSS.

  62. JS Guest

    While it's implied in your post, I would suggest that you explicitly clarify that this whole thing is an exclusive US-only invention. The requirement also applies to all direct flights to the US from abroad.

    As you mentioned, "SSSS" screening at foreign airports is done at the departure gate. Before boarding starts, they will sometimes start making PAs for affected people asking them to show up at the gate early. I also realized quite recently...

    While it's implied in your post, I would suggest that you explicitly clarify that this whole thing is an exclusive US-only invention. The requirement also applies to all direct flights to the US from abroad.

    As you mentioned, "SSSS" screening at foreign airports is done at the departure gate. Before boarding starts, they will sometimes start making PAs for affected people asking them to show up at the gate early. I also realized quite recently that Helsinki airport has certain departure gates in the non-Schengen area that are preferred for US-bound flights because they have a dedicated security screening booth, for privacy. I have no idea how common this is globally.

  63. AA70 Gold

    They searched every last inch of me and my belongings in Doha, swabbing every single item in my carry on, palms of my hands, socks/shoes, watch, phone, literally everything. It was close to 25 minutes I must say. Less than a pleasant experience, but I guess that's what happens when you fly one way BCN-DOH and spend a few days there, followed by a one way from DOH-IAH. On the plus side, the trouble was all washed away with a glass of lemon mint juice once onboard.

    1. Blueblood Bayou Guest

      TSA is US only.

  64. DenB Diamond

    "Security" is the opposite of convenience.

    1. Blueblood Bayou Guest

      "Security" was never meant to cater to your convenience.

  65. Airfarer Gold

    I had it in LHR heading for the States just after Christmas. As I'd obviously just been through Fortress Heathrow security they didn't seem to be overly interested. One guy patted me down, had a look through my carry-on and that was it. Five minutes tops.

  66. Bruce Guest

    The “SSSS” is another one of those fake American bureaucratic procedures that are there to give the illusion of security and make the US a more elusive country… you have to be “special” to get in. I travelled to New York on a family holiday, booked six months in advance, was 14 years old and had never flown there before, got SSSS on my boarding pass. It’s a very tangible example of American Exceptionalism.

  67. HoKo Guest

    I was recently flying MBJ-MIA-JFK and got SSSS on the MBJ-MIA segment. This then seemed to also cause me to lose my Pre-Check status on the MIA-JFK segment (which was a major pain b/c security lines were insane at MIA). Is that normal?

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ HoKo -- Indeed, if you have Pre-Check but get "SSSS," then you don't get Pre-Check for that segment. I'll add that to this post, since it's a good thing to clarify.

    2. Chris_ Member

      I've learned that if you reprint your domestic boarding pass at a kiosk (such as at MIA in your case) after the international flight, it will usually have pre-check on it, as the SSSS was really just for the international segment.

    3. HoKo Guest

      Thanks Chris, that's exactly the scenario I was curious about!

    4. KingBob Guest

      Are major pain insane security lines at MIA normal?
      Yes they are!

    5. HoKo Guest

      @KingBob - Haha, yeah seriously. I don't connect through MIA too often, but pretty much every time I do it is an unpleasant experience

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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no name Guest

I am a Muslim immigrant from the middle east and was given one of those "random checks" at the airport flying back home in the US. I was detained for hours after a day long flight, was asked several personal questions that violated my privacy. They asked for my phone password and got a forensic copy of it. Then they let me go. Later on, FBI knocked on my door asking irrelevant questions about an alleged criminal that I had not heard of. Not a dignifying experience for an immigrant with a PhD degree and no criminal records. I feel discriminated because of my race and religion. Unfortunately, some Americans are fed by the media propaganda that middle easterns are a threat to their national security.

2
Alan Gold

My girlfriend is on the dreaded list. You failed to mention the absolute worst aspect. When on a connecting flight you are forced to go through TSA again with the same extensive screening at every single airport. We did not know this and only found out when we approached the gate in Houston; we had flown from Laredo, TX. We almost missed the flight. If you find urself on the list make sure your connecting flights are several hours apart - u will never make a quick connection

1
Morgan Guest

Leave it to our resident “troll” UA-NYC to make another inappropriate and totally unrelated (to the topic) comment. He never ceases to amaze me and will take any opportunity he can to deliver his liberal agenda.

1
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