My latest SSSS experience was… actually totally fine and rather normal.
I’ve had an interesting last week, I decided to fly to Cancun on Tuesday night to meet up with some people there and booked Seattle to Los Angeles to Cancun with Delta for under $200, one-way. I was also upgraded to First Class on the Seattle to Los Angeles flight thanks to my Alaska status. I was in the exit row for the LAX to Cancun flight, so it was all good. I literally booked these flights like five hours before departure.
For the return, I booked Cancun to Houston to Seattle in United First Class using AMEX Membership Rewards points, and I got 50% of the points back since I have the AMEX Business Platinum Card. So I ended up paying less than what it would have cost to directly redeem miles for the flights, which of course doesn’t include the additional taxes (about $70 USD).
I was able to check in for my Delta flights with no problem and received TSA PreCheck. However, on the way back, I could check in via the United app and it asked me to take a picture of my passport (one of the things I love about the United app), but… then I got a message saying I was checked in but my boarding pass could not be issued as the documents needed to be verified at the airport. That only means one thing… SSSS! For those of you who aren’t knowledgeable about SSSS, read my post from a few years back as it explains everything.
The following are red flags to 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
You have a higher chance of being selected if you fit one of the categories above. I bought my ticket the day before departure, so obviously I was kind of expecting to get SSSS. Either way, I showed up at the airport in Cancun, got my SSSS boarding pass and proceeded through security. In the U.S., they pull you aside and search literally every corner of your baggage and they screen your “body” multiple times (because everyone knows that is the best way to catch a bad guy).
In Cancun I went through the normal security process as everyone else, the guy checking the boarding pass and ID didn’t say anything at all. That was a huge relief as they wouldn’t check every single centimetre of my luggage. At the gate they did check those who had SSSS, but it was more like “open your luggage and let us look”. All of the people I interacted with were super friendly and all they did was have me open my luggage and close it.. that’s it. No TSA b.s. – just a quick check. It was painless.
I was expecting more SSSS checks once I landed in Houston and passed through Immigration, but nope, nothing. I used Global Entry and was able to clear Immigration and Customs in less than ten minutes without any additional checks. The interesting thing is that I did not get TSA PreCheck for my Houston to Seattle flight.
This is my second time having SSSS and this time it was much more tolerable and normal. The last time I got SSSS the entire process was the worst thing in the world, I was screened literally seven times and then my baggage was searched at least three times and everyone was super unfriendly (and yes, I did have Global Entry back then).
Anyway, if you get SSSS and your travel originates outside of the U.S., the process may be much quicker and ‘normal’ since you won’t have to deal with the TSA. I was expecting to be selected since I booked my ticket just a day before departure, so this wasn’t surprising.. but the tolerable process was surprising since I was expecting to be searched for at least thirty minutes. All in all, not bad!