My Experience After Getting The Dreaded SSSS On My Boarding Pass

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SSSS On My Boarding Pass

My Experience Getting The Dreaded SSSS On My Boarding Pass

It finally happened, I finally got the bend over and cough, rubber glove attention I was able to avoid all these years. My heart sank when I saw the scarlet letter(s) tattooed on my boarding pass. Okay that was a bit over the top, I admit it.

On my way home from Amsterdam I was awarded the SSSS frequent flyer award.  I don’t know if it was random luck of the draw or if it was my crazy last few weeks of travel.  I am sure booking a last minute flight to Hawaii and only staying for 6 hours sets off some red flags.  As well as going to Denver and Amsterdam a few weeks apart.

RELATED: Details of Shawn’s First SSSS Experience 

What Is SSSS?

SSSS stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection. Basically they want to look under your hood with a little more detail.  Weird itineraries, last minute one way bookings, and visiting small obscure countries can get you on this glorious list.

It usually entails some extra swabbing and testing of your person, clothes, and gadgets.  Although some airports take it further than others.  One thing it means for sure is that you will need a little extra time to get through security.

Getting Through Standard Security

As soon as I printed my boarding pass, like I always do, I saw the SSSS and my heart sank a little bit.  I was glad we ended up getting to the airport a little earlier than normal.  I had assumed I would get the extra pat down when going through the security check point but that is not how they had it set up in Amsterdam.

While going through the regular security area I of course had one of my bags selected for extra screening.  Why not add some annoyance fuel to this fire, right?  And they moved about as slow as they could, chatting and laughing up a storm with their co-workers while we all waited.  After about 30 minutes of standing there the lady put my bag in a secondary scanner, talked to a friend for 2 minutes, and then said I could go.

SSSS On My Boarding Pass

My SSSS Screening

When I went to board the plane there was a second check point at our gate that scanned my ticket and then said, let’s get this party started!  She totally didn’t say that but that is what I thought at the time.

I went to an area up by the boarding door and once again had to wait for 5 minutes or so while others got their massage pat down.  The gentleman that did my SSSS search was very nice. He was very polite every time he asked me to do anything and said thank you every time I complied.  He swabbed my hands, clothes, feet, and shoes first. Then he asked me to take out any electronics and open them up which he swabbed and tested too.  Lastly he swabbed my clothes and other items in my bag and tested those.

Once everything was complete I packed everything up and boarded the plane.  All in all it wasn’t too bad but I know that will depend on the airport going forward.


It was a much better process than I expected if I am being honest.  I was actually more annoyed by the secondary baggage check people than I was about the SSSS screening. I plan on getting to the airport a little bit earlier this weekend just in case I get it again.  If it becomes a regular thing I will go to the DHS Trip site and fill out their paperwork to hopefully get it removed.

I know many people commented in our Facebook Group that they have had it. If you have been hit with the SSSS tattoo share your story in the comments.

Mark Ostermann
Mark Ostermann is a father, husband and miles/points fanatic. He left the corporate world after starting a family in order to be a stay at home dad. Mark is constantly looking at ways to save money and stay within budget while also taking awesome vacations with his family. When he isn't caring for his family or taking a weekend trip, Mark is working towards his goal of visiting every Major League Baseball ballpark.

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  1. Just got one in Geneva after 3 weeks in Europe. Luckily my husband carried my backpack so no extra search there. I recently Got a new passport not sure if that set it off, 90% of the time I get TsA precheck so feel pretty lucky. The whole experience was not too bad, but had stop in London Heathrow Airport so had to do it all over again there. Glad I read your article before I left for the heads up saved me a lot of hassles with my backpack.

    • I also recently renewed my passport and this was the first trip I used it one. There could be something to that. Glad the article helped you out some Sharon 🙂

  2. I once had SSSS on a Southwest flight. I went to check-in 24h before the flight and it wouldn’t let me. When I got to the airport I had to go to the counter to check in and noticed the SSSS…as well as C boarding number. SW really needs to fix their process, if they won’t let you check in due to SSSS they shouldn’t also punish you and make you board last!

  3. Very similar story to others. I’ve had GE and PreCheck for about 7-8 years now. We were in Rome this past April and I went to do the online check in on my Delta App for my wife and I for our DeltaOne FCO/ATL flight. I got her boarding pass but for me it said I needed to check in with an agent.

    At the airport the priority check in went smoothly and we were given paper boarding passes. I honestly didn’t notice that mine had the SSSS until we got to security and my wife breezed through and I got the extra screening. It wasn’t that bad I just had to take a lot of stuff out of my backpack and carry on.

    We went to the Alitalia Lounge and had a drink a small bite and then when the boarding began we headed to our gate. Going through the scan of boarding passes was quick an easy and we got on ahead of most everyone since we were in D1. My wife went ahead of me and as we got on the jetway I was pulled for the secondary screening. My wife walked ahead and didn’t realize I had been stopped. The personnel were very polite and did the pat down and went through my bags and tested them to explosives etc. All in all I was only held up about 5 min but my wife is now texting me while I’m going through this worried about what happened to me.

    In ATL we went through Customs and Immigration and used our GE kiosks to bypass most of the crowds. Then we had to go back through security since we had a connecting domestic flight. As luck would have it they pushed everyone through for this screening treated like Pre Check so I didn’t have the fun that I was thinking I would have.

    All in all not too bad but this is the first time I’ve ever had the SSSS and hopefully the last. Next trip is for July 4 so I’ll see if I’m not able to do online check in as that will be the clue for the fun to come.

  4. I got one in Incheon. The guy was well trained and polite so it was done in about a minute or so.
    There was no clear reason why I got selected so I guess it is totally random. As in nonsense.

  5. I once got the extra treatment in Tel Aviv. They opened everything. I even had to undo my pants. However, they did not stick a finger in my anus.

    I asked them “do you want to look inside my shoe?”. They said “no”.

  6. Mark, you might remember a few months back I mentioned that I broke my foot and had to fly home from Stockholm at the end of my cruise but was lucky enough to snag biz seats that opened up for that day, instead of sitting around in a hotel room for 2 days waiting for my economy flight home. So I thought the gods were smiling on me. HA!

    Well, the last night of the cruise I went to the computer center to check in and get boarding passes. The check-in system asked me to upload our passports. I thought mine had uploaded and so I proceeded to upload my husband’s but noticed that the system was about to attach his passport to my record. So I cancelled out and did it over. His uploaded just fine and we got his boarding pass. After uploading mine I got the message that mine boarding pass could not be printed, but it didn’t dawn on me what that meant.

    Next day we managed to get me on crutches with luggage and husband off the ship, into a taxi and dropped off curbside at Stockholm airport. No sign of any assistance so my husband had to find a wheelchair and push me and the luggage to check in. Got a boarding pass, still didn’t notice the SSSS as I was too frazzled by the experience of my husband trying to push wheelchair me and luggage without smashing my foot into something. He finally got some help to get us to the gate going through one security checkpoint which didn’t seem out of the ordinary. Once they opened the gate, there was another security checkpoint. No more wheelchairs allowed, so now I’m on the crutches again. They pulled me aside – that’s when I noticed the SSSS – away from my husband, who luckily took the 2 carryons with him.

    Now they have me in the screening room where I am trying to balance on crutches with my foot in a semi-rigid partial cast while trying to pull my tablet out of my handbag. Then comes the swabbing business. They ask me to extend both arms straight out – to which I plea can I please do one arm at a time so I don’t fall over? Like I am not looking to have a broken hip in addition to the foot. They are checking everything, taking the crutches and I’m trying to stay upright. Some fun. Oh, and I should mention, that this was my birthday which I was supposed to be celebrating in Stockholm. NOT! Finally I was able to get my handbag back together and hobble in to the gate.

    I was never so happy to finally land in that biz class seat. It was first row, and the flight attendants’ stuff was in the overhead right above me, and they were all jammed in the galley 4 feet away from me the entire flight. But I didn’t care. Just happy to have a nice lie-flat seat, a yummy breakfast and no more hassles!
    Happy ending – in Newark, the young woman who met us with the wheelchair took us all the way on the AirTran to Hertz (not supposed to but she was an angel). Maybe the gods decided a little redemption was in order!

    • I do remember you telling me that story. Crazy how things usually tend to happen in pairs or 3’s. When it rains it really does pour sometimes. Glad it all worked out in the end!

  7. Just got a SSSS screen boarding a plane at GCM into IAH. The first clue should have been the day before when I couldn’t get a boarding pass but the rest of my family could – all on the same itinerary. But it didn’t click for me. Until I got a boarding pass at the airport. Sigh.
    So my carefully packed backpack was emptied and I had to repack it.The process was more annoying and irritating than anything else with the security folks being less than professional about it but to be fair the lady who did the actual bag search was courteous and careful. I’ve gotten the SSSS flying through Europe (Amsterdam and Paris) but never domestically thankfully. It can be a bit disconcerting a specially when you’re not sure what exactly they are looking for. The thoroughly search you and that’s it.

    So what’s the purpose of the SSSS? Who flags passengers? The airline? TSA? Not sure what triggers it because previously I haven’t had any weird itineraries – just the standard stopovers through Europe. However this one is a bit different because the return from GCM is a multi city trip – GCM to IAH for 2 days to see family briefly before heading out to my home city

  8. EVERYONE on my Delta flight from St.Lucia to Atlanta had to have this done…even having to lift our shirts and have our stomachs swabbed. All for good security, but that was ridiculous.

  9. How awful! I didn’t even know about this. Though not flying as much lately, but several years ago I used to go to Russia a lot; always for conferences, but still. Hope I don’t get to have that experience.

  10. Curiously, we travel a lot to Mexico, and I seem to get the “random” SSSS about 30% of the time, and also, curiously, only in Mexico on the way back to the US.
    I was born in Mexico, so, usually I just ask if I can go ahead a can have the secondary screening done as other passengers board. A bit time consuming, but mostly tedious “security theater.”
    Actually, our nightmare was at FRA flying Singapore Suites on the refueling stopover. Some policeman just “felt like” checking us over.
    My wife and I were separated, our passports were taken away, taken to a separate area.
    The chief gate agent for Singapore Airlines had to intervene to have us released.

  11. I got it last year coming back from El Salvador. I didn’t get a normal boarding pass (computers were down), so didn’t realize I had 4S on my first flight. The Salvadoran security didn’t do anything special, but American thoroughly searched my bag in San Salvador.

    Then I got to Miami. That’s when I tried to get into the PreCheck lane and was denied. Then we did the “special search.” Thorough pat down. Complete check of my bag, thumbing through every piece of paper and going through each book page by page. My clothes were unrolled and piled on a table. My carefully packed bag was left in shambles. The agent refused to do anything but dump everything back in.

    The fun thing was, I had to overnight in Dallas before flying to my home city in Texas. Which meant *another* 4S search the next morning. I knew it was coming, so I checked my rollerboard. Still took a good 20 minutes for my search.

    In short… it was awful. Hope not to win that roulette again.

    • I was surprised I didn’t get the 5th degree when I landed in the US. I was prepared for it but was thankful it never came.

  12. This happened to me in Zurich and I posed the question to the screener of what would happen if I refused the SSSS? Obviously they would not let me board but I also was on the last day of my 90-day Schengen allowance so I couldn’t stay in Europe as well.

    In the USA you are SOL if you refuse of course, but not sure the government can prevent you from reentering the USA if you are a citizen which is what they would do with a refusal of SSSS.

  13. Got it in Zurich on my way home from Europe. Unfortunately I didn’t realize it until the secondary gate screening. Rookie mistake. I happened to be holding my kids technology bag with 4 iPads and a laptop. Tried to give the bag to my wife, but agent insisted that it was mine and therefore needed to be screened. have you ever taken an iPad out of its kids protector case for the first time while under emotional duress? Now do it 4 times. Took me 10 minutes of fumbling around! Was never able to get the last 2 out of their case. Literally accepted defeat and sat down with my hands crossed. After insisted over and over that it was absolutely necessary to take off the cases, he finally said it was fine. Rest of the screening was a breeze. Shoes off, pat down, and I was on my way. So yeah if traveling with an ssss and your family, make sure you go through security empty handed!

  14. I have it every time I fly back to the US from Europe. You are right, every airport handles it quite a bit differently. The most intense was Doha (yeah, I was flying ATH-DOH-JFK 🙂 and I was the final one to board the plane.
    Fortunately, I don’t get it going the other way or when flying domestically.

    • I have a feeling I will have it in the morning since I was unable to check in online and print a boarding pass 🙁


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