What It Means When You Get ‘SSSS’ on Your Boarding Pass
Recently, a friend of mine tried to print his boarding pass for a return trip home from San Francisco and had some issues. No matter how many times he reloaded Delta’s site or tried checking in on his phone, he kept getting a message that he wouldn’t be able to print his boarding pass. At the time we attributed it to a weird fluke, but when he arrived at the airport he found out why: He’d been selected for a Secondary Security Screening. That’s why his boarding pass wasn’t able to be printed, and when he actually got it the pass was emblazoned with an “SSSS” across it.
SSSS stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection or Secondary Security Screening Selectee. When you’re picked for this, you won’t be able to print your boarding pass out at home or from one of the kiosks at the airport. Instead, you’ll have to get your pass from the desk where they’ll likely ask you some questions about your travel plans in addition to checking out your ID.
There are a ton of different reasons why you can end up with an SSSS. My friend happens to be a travel writer, so he makes a number of trips that could probably be characterized as “unusual.” We’re guessing that’s what scored him the honor this time. There’s no official explanation of what gets you on the list, but some ideas are last-minute flights, international one-way fares, paying for a flight in cash, and travel that originates in a “high-risk country.” It could also happen randomly, and will definitely happen if you’re on a watch list.
If you have an SSSS, when you get to the front of the TSA line, that machine the agency typically scans your pass with will beep and they’ll let you know you’ve been randomly selected for additional screening. Some frequent SSSS selectees even suggest just walking to the Priority lane at security and letting them know rather than waiting in the general security line only to be pulled out when you reach the front.
From there, you’ll often get taken to your own security line where you’ll essentially end up going through the whole gamut of security screenings. Based on internet accounts, the experience can vary a bit, but you’re likely to have to go through the metal detector and body scanner, sometimes twice, as well as receive a full body pat-down. Your carry-on bags are going to be very carefully gone through by security and wiped down for explosive residue. You’ll also need to power on all your electronics, so make sure they’re charged.
When it’s all said and done, the TSA agent will fill out a form and then stamp your paper boarding pass saying you’re all good. When you get to the gate to board your plane, that alarm is going to sound again, and the gate agent will make sure you’ve got the right stamp and signature on your pass before letting you get on board.
The whole experience can take between 10-30 minutes, so if you do end up not being able to print your boarding pass at home, you’ll want to make sure you get to the airport extra early for your flight. It also (obviously) benefits you to pack lightly, and let everyone else in your party go through security without you (otherwise they might end up involved in this whole process as well).
It’s not out of the ordinary for everyone to get this every now and then. If you find it happening often, then you should try applying for a redress number. That process is specifically for travelers that are repeatedly selected for additional screening, indicating they may accidentally be on a watch list, that want to have their file corrected with the Department of Homeland Security.