What To Do If You Get an SSSS on Your Boarding Pass


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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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SSSS Boarding Pass

Frequently asked questions

What does an SSSS on your boarding pass mean?

SSSS is an acronym for Secondary Security Screening Selection, which means you will have to go through some sort of additional security screening at the airport.

Spencer Howard

About Spencer Howard

Always a fan of flying, it was only natural that Spencer was drawn to finding a way to improve the travel experience. Like many, he started this journey searching for cheap flights to take him around the world. This was fun for a while, but Spencer was intrigued by the idea of flying in business and first class! Throwing himself into what became an extensive research project, Spencer spent 3-4 hours per night learning everything he could about frequent flyer miles over the course of several months (he thinks this is normal).

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  1. Dee Daniel April 21, 2019

    So, I literally just experienced this process, this past weekend (April 20), after flying all over the world for the past 25 years – currently traveling as a trusted traveler and on my third passport. We were coming from Mexico on what I consider to be an under-the-radar, run-of-the-mill vacation (I’ve been in Israel, Jordan, South Africa and India and NEVER had an issue).

    It all started on the return trip (we were TSA Pre-Check on the outbound flight) when Southwest would not allow us to check-in online. I get to the airport, ask the SW attendant in Cancun why I was unable to check-in online and her response “I don’t know.” Really? She printed a boarding pass with a big-A “SSSS” on it and red-circled it, but yet she “didn’t know.” I also asked her to reprint my boarding pass to see if a TSA-Pre-Check logo would appear and she indicated my Known Travel Number (KTN) was in the system so they should let me pre-check.

    Also, I had earlier called SW 2x and asked for a return call to understand why I was not able to check in online and they never returned my call (more complicity). So they do their “enhanced check” in Cancun and then I get to Nashville where it really gets fun. It takes 6 people to search through all my stuff, feel me up and of course, find absolutely nothing. All with no explanation other than that I had been “selected.” Meanwhile I am fuming and just on the verge of expletives, but of course, no value in losing my cool.

    I will just say that the process is a faulty one. I have had trusted traveler status for almost a decade, have never violated any travel policies and have been to places ranging from suitable for a G-rated family vacation to locations where civil war and bombings have occurred literally the day after I leave. I don’t know what’s going on with TSA, Southwest, or travel in general, but I was very disappointed with the treatment I received.


  2. I was also selected for SSSS after years of flying with no criminal history. Also coming back from Mexico. Out of a party of 6, only I was selected. I expected a full body pat down and agents going through my carry-ons, but all they did was swab my bags, hand, and jean pockets. It was definitely less intense than what I’ve read online, but of course doesn’t feel any better. Maybe the process is different since it was done at the airport in Cabo so it was less strict? And there were multiple people on my flight with United Airlines going back to SFO that were selected. I’m guessing it may have to do with our current tensions with Mexico. If not, I’m concerned why I was selected when I am no threat as a citizen of this country.


  3. K Thompson June 17, 2019

    Got the Special Treatment at LHR last week. What a joke, I saw the SSSS on the boarding pass I was issued, gave all my carry ons immediately to my husband and had the 5 x 8 travel purse only with me when I alerted TSA to my status. My husband and I both have Global Entry and were flying Virgin Upper Class. Hubby zipped right thru with 2 small carry ons while I got the full treatment.
    This is the 3rd time traveling home from Europe this has happened to me (Heathrow & Frankfurt) not sure what is suspicious about a nearly 70 yr old, 5ft tall, Grandmother from rural Oregon. I laughed when they examined each tiny size 5 ballet flat inside & out and pulled at the heel. Thank god I sent my husband away fast with my carry on! 🙄


  4. I was selected in Italy so I knew the process. My 18 year old son on a family vacation got the SSS. I laughed and said, “Don’t worry buddy.” We took all of his stuff and went through TSA first. He was in a tank top, runners shorts, and flip flops. Security was like, “Now what, nothing to check, nothing to pat down, but they did use the x ray”. Not cool guys (not a scanner).


  5. Winsome DeCarish January 18, 2020

    I was subjected to SSSS check. What’s behind asking you to turn on any electronic device you are carrying? What is obtained from having it on? Location? ID? Access to personal information? What?


  6. Lissy London January 26, 2020

    My husband and I got it on our flight from Cleveland to NYC for our honeymoon. Fortunately we were military and hubby was in full uniform so as soon as they saw the SSSS and his uniform and me in a blazer and a pissed off look on my face they actually apologised and let us skip the screening entirely and we got walked around security, hopped into a golf cart thing and were whisked straight to the gate where the agent took a look at the boarding pass and again apologised and printed out a new boarding pass at the gate sans SSSS mark… That tells me they have way more control over this than they admit. It may start off as random but it can be dealt with.


  7. Got an SSSS flying home from Barcelona. No big deal so I thought. I forgot we had bought small butter knives at a 2€ store to enjoy food we had bought before getting on the train from France to Barcelona (small little spreaders with red plastic handle with a cow on it). Well, that’s when the fun began. Full pat-down, wipe down for explosives the works. I explained I forgot about them, they could throw them away, there was no edge on them that would cut anything. About 3 agents and 15 minutes later they cleared the spreaders as non-lethal, and I got bussed out to the gate and allowed early access to the plane. No point in getting upset about these things, I enjoy traveling and it would upset me more to not be able to travel again.


  8. I was a first-time traveler when I experienced this at DXB. I saw the SSS but didn’t know what it meant. It was scary how all the passengers with me were allowed to go with just me isolated for this. My carry-on was screened and I was made to move from one x-ray to the other with swabs on my clothes for ETD devices. They eventually invited to question me about a food substance they found in my bag. I was finally cleared and taken to the gate where my agent was waiting. Interestingly, I am now a trained Aviation Security Officer with a specialty in Electronic Trace Device (ETD) handling. It could be frustrating if you don’t understand the process but there is no point in questioning it if you buy into the need for aviation Security tightening.


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