There are many unpleasant situations travelers do not want to experience as they attempt to board their flights. From stolen luggage to working through the frustrations of a delayed flight, travel troubles can haunt flyers at every turn. But the worst of these may be the inability to print a boarding pass from home due to being selected for the dreaded "SSSS" list.
When the acronym "SSSS" appears on a boarding pass, it means more than just a random search and additional questions by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Instead, these four letters can turn a dream vacation into a pre-departure nightmare. Should you be selected for this not-so-lucky list, expect some extra screening procedures, and plenty of delays.
What Does “SSSS” Stand For?
The acronym "SSSS" stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection. Instituted by the TSA in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, this additional step in the security process was added as a protective measure to check certain travelers before boarding aircraft traveling into, out of, or within the United States.
Much like the infamous "No Fly" list, the "SSSS" list is a secret, and travelers can be added to it at any time without notice or warning. There is no way for travelers to know ahead of time if they have been targeted for "SSSS." Rather, if a traveler cannot check-in for their flight online or at a kiosk, it may be a sign they have been added to this list.
Why People Are Labeled as an “SSSS” Traveler
It is impossible to know what single action a traveler may have done to land on the "SSSS" list. Neither the TSA nor specific airlines publish their SSSS criteria.
That said, in past media articles certain types of traveler behaviors have been noted as potential reasons for SSSS designation, including frequent travel, last-minute bookings, paying for a flight in cash, or regularly purchasing one-way tickets.
Frequent international flyers have reported the "SSSS" brand appearing on their boarding passes after traveling to particularly sensitive areas of the world, or to countries designated as "high risk" by the U.S. State Department.
What to Expect
In addition to not being able to complete self-check-in for a flight, travelers who have the "SSSS" designation on their boarding pass can expect to answer a lot of questions from authorities during their trip.
Gate agents may need more information to confirm a traveler's identity and can inspect all travel documents prior to issuing a ticket, while Customs and Border Protection agents will often ask additional questions about previous and current plans.
At the TSA checkpoint, those with "SSSS" on their boarding passes can expect the full security treatment, including a pat-down inspection. In addition, all luggage may be hand searched and swabbed for trace explosive residue. This entire process could add a lot more time to a traveler's itinerary, requiring you to arrive early to meet their next flight.
Getting Removed From the “SSSS” List
Unfortunately, getting off the list is much more difficult than getting on the list. If a traveler receives the "SSSS" designation, they can appeal their status to the Department of Homeland Security.
Those who believe they have been placed on the "SSSS" list erroneously can send their complaints to the DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP). Through this inquiry process, travelers can request a review of their files with the Department of Homeland Security and State Department. After submitting an inquiry, travelers will be issued a Redress Control Number, which may help them reduce their chances of making the secondary screening list. A final decision will ultimately be released once the inquiry is complete.
While nobody wants to be on the "SSSS" list, travelers can take actions to make sure they steer clear of it. By understanding the situation and knowing the steps around, you can keep your trips safe, secure, and expeditious as you see the world.