One of the most frustrating parts of flying can be the time it takes to get through security screening at TSA checkpoints. First, you have to deal with long lines; then you have to take out laptops, take off jackets and belts, empty your pockets, etc. (unless you have TSA PreCheck).
However, if you see SSSS on your boarding pass, your security experience could get even longer. SSSS is an acronym for Secondary Security Screening Selection. The name makes it sound like a hassle — and it is.
TSA doesn’t provide the exact reasons that people are selected for secondary screening, but unusual itineraries such as travel from a high-risk country, last-minute flights, or even one-way international flights seem to be a trigger.
If you’re on a watch list of some kind, you can expect to see SSSS on your boarding pass. In addition, travelers who have expired green cards that are in the process of being renewed and are traveling back to the U.S. on a “permit to travel” (I-751) can potentially get flagged. It also seems to happen randomly.
If you are selected for additional screening, you won’t be able to print your boarding pass or access your mobile boarding pass when you check in at home. This does not necessarily mean you have been selected, but be aware that it’s a possibility. You will need to print your boarding pass at a check-in kiosk at the airport or speak with someone from the airline to get your boarding pass once you arrive.
Once you get to the TSA checkpoint and scan your boarding pass, the TSA agent will be alert that you require additional screening. This won’t be a surprise to if you noticed the SSSS on your boarding pass, so try to take it all in stride.
You can expect to go through both the metal detector and the full body scanner. To top it off, you can expect a very thorough patdown from a TSA agent (in private, if you prefer). TSA agents will also inspect everything in your carry-on bags and wipe them to check for explosives. Just in case you often leave the house without charging your electronics, keep in mind that you will need to turn on each device.
Upon the completion of your inspection, a TSA agent will need to fill out a form. An agent will stamp your boarding pass to let airline gate agents know that you have completed the required screening. Make sure they stamp your boarding pass. Otherwise, you will be flagged when you board, and TSA will have to come to the gate to deal with it.
If you receive SSSS on your boarding pass, plan for the screening process to take 10 to 20 additional minutes (sometimes longer). This will vary based on how quickly TSA agents work, whether they need to double-check anything, and if they need to wait for an additional agent to help with the screening.
Bottom Line: While this isn’t a fun experience, it is rare for the vast majority of travelers. If you find yourself getting the dreaded SSSS regularly, you should consider applying for a Redress Number. If you are approved and receive a Redress Number, you’ll be able to add it to your frequent flyer accounts so it is applied to your bookings.
In the end, no matter how common it is for you, the best thing you can do is stay friendly during the process. It’s not a fun process for TSA agents either. Yes, it can add some extra time to the security screening process, but you can plan for that. Remember, if you check in online or using an airline’s mobile app, you can know ahead of time if there’s a chance you’ll get SSSS on your boarding pass.
Hopefully, the extra screening time won’t ruin the travel experience for you, and you’ll still have time to relax at an airport lounge before your flight.
For extra tips on how to get through security quicker and easier, check out our handy guide here.
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