Even if you don’t have a degree in reading boarding passes, you can usually figure out what most of the stuff is:
Your name, the date, your flight info, if you have TSA Pre-Check and your seat are all pretty obvious. You can even find out about what the gobbledeegook numbers and letters represents (most of it can be found here). But there’s one thing you want to hope you don’t see on your boarding pass…
See that SSSS? That’s not good news. It stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection (or Secondary Security Screening Selectee) and it means you’ve been selected to go through additional inspection.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a list of people whose names will be marked for SSSS, although no one knows how many people (it’s said to be in the tens of thousands) or who’s on the list (although it’s suspected that people from certain countries are subject to it by default). They also have a list of criteria for SSSS screening that they don’t make public, but at least some of it is believed to be:
- Passengers with a one-way reservation
- Passengers who pay cash for their tickets
- Random selection
Anyway, those lucky passengers with the aviation equivalent of the scarlet letter on their boarding pass have to go through a more intensive screening process. That may include enhanced pat-downs and their carry-on luggage may also be inspected by hand. If they have film or other items that can’t be X-rayed, the TSA agent may perform a test for possible explosive materials (here’s now to make sure you don’t get a false positive for those!). The screener may also use a hand-held metal detector to search the passenger for metal objects. With all of that being said, when/if you see SSSS on your boarding pass when you print it out, you may want to arrive at the airport a little early and give yourself some extra time, to make sure you get to your gate on time despite this delay.
As long as you have nothing to hide, going through the SSSS process isn’t a huge deal and is nothing to worry about – it’s more of a delay than anything else. But still and all, fingers crossed that you never see those 4 letters on your boarding pass.
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