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12/04/2008 – The Dreaded SSSS On Your Boarding Pass
Many of you have experienced the joy of “Secondary Security Screening Selection” (SSSS), and for those who have not experienced it , you probably know someone who has, or have seen it while waiting in line for security.
How do you know if you have been “selected” for secondary screening? In the lower right corner of your boarding pass you will see four letters “SSSS,” which stands for “Secondary Security Screening Selection.” Contrary to popular belief, passengers who receive SSSS selection are not chosen by the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA), they are actually selected by the airlines they are flying on.
A common misconception is that SSSS only exists in the United States. You can get SSSS on your boarding pass outside of the United States. I know quite a few people who have had SSSS come up on their boarding pass outside of the US. In fact I was handed a boarding pass with SSSS this morning for my flight from Seoul/Incheon (ICN) to Tokyo/Narita (NRT).
Another very popular myth is that passengers in premium cabins are not subject to SSSS. This is entirely false. Another common myth is that an airlines, or airline alliance, “elite” frequent flier is not subject to the SSSS. This is also incorrect.
To demonstrate that these myths are just myths, there is a photograph of my boarding pass from this morning at the end of this post. This boarding pass has all the myths debunked on one sheet of paper.
If you look at my boarding pass you will see that it is issued at Incheon/Seoul (South Korea). You will also see that the boarding pass clearly states “United First” in the upper right of the card, a “First Class” label is on the the right hand side. Lastly you’ll notice under my name is printed “BD*G.” BD*G = British Midland International (BMI) – Star Gold. “Star Gold” is the highest level of elite status recognized between the Star Alliance member airlines.
How can you avoid getting the “SSSS” on your boarding pass? You cannot. There are no published guidelines for what triggers this. The only know reasons that can potentially trigger this appearing on your boarding pass are your travel patterns. I know why I think my boarding pass has SSSS on it. My travel itinerary over the past few days is unusual. I have made complete stops in my itinerary in four countries, on three continents, in three 24 hour periods, without ever overnighting in any one place. Having traveled in the United States, Germany, Hong Kong and South Korea (I am now writing this entry sitting in the airport in Tokyo/Narita, Japan) would naturally set of red flags in the airline’s computer system.
When you are selected the computer has to base it’s SSSS selection on travel patterns, such as last minute one-way bookings, as the computer cannot factor in a background check at the time the boarding pass is issued. I have read some very amusing posts online about how to avoid SSSS, such as asking for a new seat. This does not work. A favourite way to avoid SSSS is to pay for an upgrade. Not only does this not remove the SSSS, but you have to consider if it is even worth it to pay for an upgrade to save 4 minutes at the security check point.
Secondary screening is not that bad. It is inconvenient, but it takes a few minutes,that’s all.
Does SSSS actually provide us with any additional security? No not really. If you are planning on doing some harm to the worth and you see SSSS on your boarding card chances are you’ll walk out of the airport, or go to your car and ditch whatever you were going to smuggle onto the plane. It is simply a show of force.
So, if you get SSSS on your boarding pass be polite. Stay calm and relaxed. Empty your pockets it will go by quickly. I have seen quite a few folks start yelling at gate agents or security agents. That gets you no where except possibly being denied boarding and certainly a longer, slower search.