If you’re someone that travels to the USA frequently, you might have seen these four letters on one of your boarding passes already: SSSS. While this means that your travel experience will not be as smooth as it could be, it is not necessarily a sign that should alarm you. In this article, we will try to give you an idea of the kind of consequences the addition on your boarding pass might have.
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What Does SSSS Stand for?
SSSS stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection (or, alternatively, Secondary Security Screening Selectee). It’s a security measure in the United States that will select passengers for additional screening before boarding their flight.
What it basically means is that selected travelers will have to undergo an extra strict search before their flight. Most of the time, this will not replace standard security screening but will be conducted afterward. As an unpleasant add-on, if you wish.
What’s the Reason for an SSSS on Your Boarding Card?
There are no fixed rules that would give you insight into the process. Or at least the TSA (Transportation Security Administration in the USA) does not publish the criteria they use to select passengers for the extra screening. But if one looks up some reports from other travelers that had an SSSS in the past, the following things could be used as an indicator:
- One reason could be that your pattern for purchasing the ticket is unusual. Maybe someone else booked the flight for you. Or you didn’t use a credit card issued in your name for payment. Paying for a trip in cash might also make you seem suspicious.
- A one-way tickets or tickets for travel originating in countries that the USA sees as high-risk countries will often get you an SSSS on your boarding pass.
- There are also more obvious reasons like a wrong passport number you’ve provided or a mistake with your name or birthdate. A new passport can also lead to extra security screening.
- If you’ve had problems with immigration in the USA in the past, you’re likely to be selected. And there seem to be lists of of names from people that could be a treat to the USA. If you’re on one of those, an SSSS is almost inevitable.
Last but not least, your SSSS can also be completely random. But this should not be the case too often. It’s more likely that one of the reasons mentioned above causes secondary screening.
Secondary Screening Process – a Reader’s Experience
Now, if you are one of the lucky travelers that have been selected for a secondary screening, you might want to know what you have to expect at the airport. One of our readers, who also wrote an interesting article on the topic on our German site, shared his experience with us. He had booked a trip from Warsaw to New York and had an SSSS on his boarding pass. This is what happened:
After arrival at the airport, the agent at the check-in desks informed Peter that he was in the group of travelers selected for additional screening. This would be done directly at the gate. Once Peter arrived there, the screening its self was very similar to the one he had already gone through together with all other passengers. He had to take out his notebook, show all liquids, take off his shoes and luggage as well as clothes got tested for signs of explosives. Once everything was done, Peter received a stamp on the back of his boarding pass. As proof that he had, in fact, gone through the secondary screening.
Can I Prepare Myself for The Seconday Screening?
All in all, the process itself is nothing you should worry about. The worst part is probably the extra wait. Since it can take a while until you’re done with the additional security check. In general, it is a good idea to stay cooperative and just answer all the questions that you might be asked. These could include:
- Where are you traveling to?
- Where does your trip originate?
- How long are you planning on staying in the US?
- What’s the reason for your trip?
- Do you have a visa, ESTA, or green card?
Once you’re finished, the rest of your flight should be just like any other. Although we have heard of travelers that also got an extended interview upon their arrival in the United States. But this seems to be the exception.
Signs That Indicate you Might get a SSSS
As a matter of fact, there is no way of telling if you will see an SSSS on your boarding pass or not. Nor is there anything that will ensure that this won’t be the case. Passengers with green cards or those participating in the Global Entry program can be selected as well.
But there is one sign that can lead to the assumption that you’ve been selected. That is that you won’t be able to get your boarding pass when checking-in online. If you’re a Secondary Security Screening Selectee, you can only finish your check-in at a desk at the airport. That’s because you will need a piece of paper rather than an electronic version. This will ensure that no one can overlook you.
How to Avoid getting an SSSS on Your Boarding Pass
Unfortunately, you can’t do anything to prevent being selected for secondary screening. And if it only happens once in a while, there’s nothing to worry about. If you visit the USA 10 times a year and get an SSSS once, that should be an average ratio.
But if you get the four letters on your boarding pass every time, you might want to look into it. This will be a strong indication that you are on some list – one that you want to get off from, if possible.
So if you ruled out all other reasons (like a weird travel pattern, for example), you should make use of the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program. You will provide some details and explain what your problem is. And – hopefully – someone will investigate your case.
While getting an SSSS printed on your boarding pass might be a shock for many travelers that didn’t experience this before, it is nothing you should worry about. If everything is in order and you are not actually someone planning to do something wrong, the only negative point will be the extra time you have to spend waiting for your secondary screening.
Depending on the airport of departure, this might take only a few minutes. We know from people flying out of Frankfurt that went through the process in less than 5 minutes. While passengers leaving Istanbul needed more patients. But other than that: no worries and keep looking forward to your trip!