Have you ever noticed ‘SSSS’ written on your boarding pass? And noticed that with those 4 S’s your travel day might have been impacted with additional screening? SSSS stands for ‘Secondary Security Screening Selection’, basically if you see this on your boarding pass, you will receive additional security throughout your time at the airport.

When it comes to getting randomly selected, there are several myths and facts that are thrown around and most people don’t know what in fact is true and what isn’t.

A common assumption is that the security/TSA selects people for SSSS, this is false. It is the airlines who review several pieces of information about your journey and then determine if you are a candidate for secondary screening, now of course you could not match any of their SSSS specifications and still get randomly selected (as happened to me at least twice already).

Here is one of my recent boarding passes:

SSSS

SSSS

As you can see above my name is the indication that I was selected. Normally this would say something like ‘API OK’ or ‘API’ or something like ‘DATA’.

Some myths of receiving secondary screening include (but are definitely not limited to):

  • Premium cabin travellers don’t get secondary screening. False. In this case I was flying Business class.
  • Frequent flyers don’t get secondary screening. False. See ‘SEN’ written on the boarding pass twice? This means Lufthansa Miles&More Senator status which is Star Alliance Gold.
  • People who are members of a trusted traveller programme (like Global Entry). False. You can’t see it here, but I have Global Entry and I made sure my Known Traveller Number was in the system way ahead of departure.

The following are red flags to the airlines:

  • People who buy their tickets really close to the departure date (in most cases the day of departure).
  • People who pay with cash for their ticket.
  • People who buy one-way tickets.

If you are ever selected for additional screening via this method, you won’t be able to print or get your boarding pass at home. In my case, I was flying from Poland to Frankfurt and onward to Seattle and I was able to check-in all the way to Seattle but was only able to print/get my boarding pass at home for the European segment.

In most cases, SSSS is random and it is just another way of protecting the people travelling. If you see that you have received SSSS, I’d suggest that you make sure to take off ALL of the metal on your body BEFORE going through security. And I mean everything. Place it in your bag so that the whole process will go smoother. You might receive a pat down and your bags will definitely be inspected by hand.

Also, make sure that once you are past security, go to the gate and get a new boarding pass (after your passport/ID is verified), that doesn’t have the ‘SSSS’, since you can’t board with the original one.

Hopefully that makes some information clear on the subject, and just know that literally anyone can get it, so don’t be nervous. If you comply, the whole process will be smooth and you will be flying in no time.