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

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Spencer Howard

Spencer Howard

Former Content Contributor

Countries Visited: 21U.S. States Visited:

Always a fan of flying, Spencer wanted to find ways to upgrade his travel experience. Over the years, Spencer has been a guest speaker on multiple YouTube shows as well as podcasts on maximizing point...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury

Keri Stooksbury


Countries Visited: 39U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now Editor-in-Chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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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.

Why You Might Get an SSSS On Your Boarding Pass

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, so you must just be unlucky!

Can You Get an SSSS Removed From Your Boarding Pass?

Image Credit: Wayan Vota via Flickr (license)

In some cases, you may be able to contact your airline or TSA in order to get the SSSS removed.

Explain the situation and ask if there is anything you can do to remove the SSSS, such as provide evidence of your travel itinerary, proof of identity, etc. It might simply be a case that there was a discrepancy in information and the problem could be cleared up before you even get to the airport!

If you are flagged for security reasons, such as your name showing up on a watch list or traveling from a “high-risk” country, know that it might not be possible to avoid additional screening.

Moving forward, it might help to apply for a Trusted Traveler Program, such as TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. These programs prescreen you, and once you are approved, you are considered a low-risk traveler.

What Does Secondary Screening Mean?

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.

Final Thoughts

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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Frequently Asked Questions

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.

Depending on the reasons for getting flagged, you may be able to provide your airline or TSA with additional information. Oftentimes, it is completely random, so there is nothing that can be done. You can apply for a Known Traveler Program (such as Global Entry), which may help you avoid selection in the future.

Unfortunately, you will find an SSSS on boarding passes on both domestic and international flights. It is more common on flights that arrive into the United States, but can happen for flights within the United States as well. The SSSS will not appear on flights to international destinations.

The exact criteria for getting an SSSS isn’t published, but it can sometimes be random. Most of the time, however, it is dependent on a number of risk factors. This could include things such as travel plans or other personal information that might flag an airline or TSA that you are considered “high-risk”.

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). He runs Straight to the Points, an award-seat alert platform.


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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.


October 25, 2021

Experienced the SSSS at DFW and EWR. DFW took almost 1 hour because we were traveling as a family. Both my wife and myself had the SSSS on our pass, but all the kids were cleared. Of course, since we were a family traveling together, TSA had to ‘screen’ all of us and our luggage, every single item. We ended up missing the first flight. On the next flight, the TSA agents showed up at the gate and again ‘selectively screened’ the whole family, which took an additional 25 minutes and the airline closed the doors 2 minutes prior to TSA check being completed-we missed the 2nd flight also. My wife decided she didn’t want to travel to EWR anymore and would like to go home.
I ended up taking a flight the next day (22Oct2021) with one of my son’s and had to go through the same experience again at DFW. Luckily, we got to the airport in plenty of time to be ‘screened’ by the TSA and again at the door by TSA agents.
Similar ‘screening’ experience on the way back from EWR to DFW.
I think these agents just ‘randomly’ show up to your gate when you have the SSSS on your pass to ‘re-screen’ you. I don’t think I’ve ever been secondarily screened at the gate prior to this.
I’ve been flying for 20+ years for my job and have platinum status with the airlines, as well as, pre-check number. None of that matters when you have the SSSS on your boarding pass.
I’ve applied for a redress number. I am not sure how helpful it is to have a redress number.


June 03, 2019

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.

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! 🙄

Joe Chapa

December 23, 2019

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).

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?

Christine Krzyszton

January 18, 2020

Hi Winsome. I read that this practice was implemented because of 9/11. It’s to show that it is a working device and that the batteries are not replaced with explosives. Not sure if this is the only reason, however.


January 05, 2021

They started doing it after a guy took a laptop on a flight with an explosive device inside. I hope I remember correctly but the device failed mid-flight burned him and produced smoke. Very intrusive procedure anyway.

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.


August 31, 2021

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.


September 05, 2021

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.


January 04, 2022

I had the SSSS on my boarding pass for my flight from DXB back to LAX. It was a fairly quick check on my end. I was actually able to get through faster than everyone else because there was no line. Asked me to open my carry on bag for them to check, take off my shoes, and searched me with a metal detector. Took only a few minutes and I was on my way.


February 10, 2022

Had SSSS on my fiancé’s boarding pass and we were warned that additional security screening will be performed. Took about 15 minutes. We think it’s because we have lived in Turkey for the past 6 months. The funny thing is I’m not a citizen and also lived in Turkey so I would be more of a threat? But I got cleared with no issues 🙂
Will see if this happens again on our flight back


April 29, 2022

My 13 year old son had SSSS on his boarding pass recently on a domestic flight. The airline seemed baffled and asked him for ID. What 13 year old has ID? Then TSA pulled us. They were at a loss as to the process for kid. Since they didn’t know the process, they had both of us go through secondary and even took a copy of my ID (pissed me off). It felt like they were making it up as they went. Anyone know why a kid would get selected? Also, why would I have been “forced” to also go thru this when I didn’t get selected? I’ve been on hold with TSA for way too long.


May 07, 2022

My disabled partner recently had ssss on her tickets traveling from usa to uk for a 3 week vacation. It was a absolute nightmare as my partner was treated so badly at bristol airport by customs officers being locked up in a room for 4 hours of questioning about reasons visiting the uk etc. When my partner was questioned in Iceland they admitted all the questions were because my partner had a ssss code because of being a disabled benefit claimant. I guess discrimination is allowed within the travel industry as when I complained I was ignored and told next time my partner needed to have a bank statement at the border for border control to allow access into Britain!


May 07, 2022

So, I got SSSS traveling from Milan to JFK yesterday. on Emirates First Class. I am a frequent traveler, aged 60 female, and have never gotten that before nor even heard of it. I suspect the SSSS popped up because I booked the flights on the DAY of departure, (due to the fact that my husband forgot my birthday the day before, and I was annoyed, so I used some of our joint miles to surprise friends in Sicily.) The first class check in agents said nothing, but asked some really detailed questions about where I had been during my 1 week trip to Italy. They asked for my Home Address (which Emirates already has). They also attached a sort of “First Class” zip tie to my 3 carry on bags. I thought it weird that I would have to cut these things off at home. I only found out about my SSSS status when I entered the Emirates lounge. Of course I googled the hell out of it, and started to panic for no reason. The TSA rolled the machines to the lounge, and I was pointed out by the lounge staff. Embarassing! I felt like a criminal. In the end, all they did was swab the outside of my bags and my hands, and run the cotton through the machine. All clear. They cut the zip ties off of my bags, but I still had to stay in the designated area with them (no bathrooms runs or more food or drink) until boarding the plane. Altogether a very weird experience!!


December 04, 2022

Thanks!!!! Flygirl, did you have to pass through the full-body scanner?

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