Most of you will not need to read this post, but for the ones of you who do…god speed. I was recently tagged as an “SSSS” traveller, and my saga is unfortunately still trucking along. I’m going to continue to update this post as I learn and the situation develops.
Why does my boarding pass say SSSS?
SSSS stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection it means you are the unlucky winner of a lot of inconvenience. Traveller are selected at random for SSSS, or may be tagged due to suspicious travel bookings (i.e. last minute flights, one ways out of the country, group bookings, etc.) In the past two months, I booked a group trip to the Dominican Republic, a month long trip to France, several domestic one ways, and a honeymoon to Europe and Africa…I can guess what lead to the adventures described below.
What does this mean for you as a traveller?
- You can not check in online. This is a minor annoyance, but it does mean extra time at the airport desks, and can leave you with undesired seat assignments.
- You will be pulled from regular security when your boarding is recognized as SSSS. You will likely be subjected to bag checks, pat downs, more thorough searches, hand swipes, and other unpleasant and time consuming activities.
- You will be asked to power on your electronics. This can be quick and simple, but if your devices are not charged or won’t power on for whatever reason, things can get lengthy and frustrating.
Overall annoying, but painless…
UNLESS YOU LEVEL UP!!! IN WHICH CASE:
Things really get fun (read: really, really frustrating)
If for whatever reason, you sail through security without a glitch, things can get hairy at the gate. This is usually just in time for your plane to leave, so you get to play a crucial role in the delay of hundreds of other passengers (they love you for this)!
If you do not have a stamp on your SSSS-tagged boarding pass when you attempt to board the plane, an alert will halt your boarding, and a TSA agent will be summoned to the gate to conduct further searches and security exams. They will conclude, stamp your pass, and send you on your merry way. Your embarkment will likely be filled with side eye and other acts of passive aggression as you walk down the aisle, but you’re on the plane and things could be worse.
UNLESS YOU LEVEL UP AGAIN!!! IN WHICH CASE:
Things get even more fun (read: actually inconvenient to the point you have no idea if you will make your flight or not).
If they can not bring a TSA agent to the gate, you (as I was) will be escorted back through the initial security screening area where you will be questioned, patted, and prodded. Stats: you're now seriously delayed, are not in possession of your boarding pass or passport, and have no idea if your plane is departing without you. Hopefully the chaos ends here.
UNLESS YOU ARE A SERIOUS SSSS STAR PLAYER!!!! IN WHICH CASE:
Your checked luggage will now be pulled off the plane to be searched by a team, while you helplessly watch. This typically happens efficiently and swiftly (READ: THIS TAKES A LIFETIME AND YOUR ENTIRE PLANE NOW HATES YOU EVEN THOUGH YOU WERE RANDOMLY SELECTED FOR THIS FRESH HELL)
UNLESS YOU HIT BONUS STAR LEVEL!!!! IN WHICH CASE:
You are in a country where the TSA/airport staff do no speak English and refuse to tell you what is happening from top to bottom. You might even be screened by a malfunctioning substance testing machine, and are then detained to a private room as a potential drug trafficker until they realize they conducted the test incorrectly. THIS HAPPEN TO ANYONE ELSE OR JUST ME???? I’m assuming I’m the lucky grand prize SSSS winner, but if you’ve also reached this level, message me and we’ll get a drink. We both need one.
- Build in extra travel time.
- Make sure your electronics are charged and functioning.
- Meticulously pack your carry on. You will be read as a high alert, so that large liquid bottle you though you could sneak through- not going to happen.
- Really declare everything you bring in or out. You should do this anyways, but know that it’s possible your bag will be searched, so be smart.
- Patience. Your first reaction might be to voice your injustice-which is well deserved-but it really helps to just accept the situation to avoid further delay. I have tried both methods, and it’s best to bite your tongue and complain to your mom on the phone afterwards.
After several flights with various levels of SSSS experience domestically and internationally, my status is still shrouded in mystery. There is no easy way to know how long you will be tagged or when it might pop up. Many times this only happens once. You can try submitting a DHS Redress Inquiry, or contacting your senator to find out the reason for your unfortunate new title. Most people just have to wait it out until the curse is lifted. Comment below if you have experienced this, or are just beginning your SSSS journey!