My First “SSSS” Enhanced Security Experience
I spent this past weekend in Mexico City and had a great time. My wife and I brought baby Elizabeth down there to meet her Grandmother and Great Grandmother and I also met up with some friends to see the city a bit. All I can say is it lived up to my lofty expectations. Anyone who is scared of going or otherwise doesn’t see Mexico City as a worthwhile destination is just CRAAAAZY!
Enhanced Security Selection
Yesterday it was time for us to head home, so we headed to the airport. I had checked in online successfully with Southwest, but had used my phone and did not print the boarding pass. (I don’t remember seeing an SSSS on it when I checked in, but I cannot say that for sure.) Upon arrival at the airport, I handed our three passports to the Southwest employee and was handed back three boarding passes. Unfortunately mine had the dreaded SSSS on it.
For those who don’t know, SSSS stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection. It basically means that you are to get the strictest search possible of your person and belongings. Knowing how Mexico is generally about security, I feared their process, but didn’t have a choice. Thankfully we were early and I had plenty of time, so we headed to the security checkpoint.
The MEX Security Experience
Once at the main security checkpoint I was delighted when the security agent looked at my boarding pass and sent me on my way. I went through security just like everyone else and was excited. Perhaps I had avoided the dreaded pat down. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.
In the U.S. you cannot board a plane with an SSSS boarding pass, so once at the gate I asked the Southwest attendant if I needed a new one. He said that they do the enhanced security AT THE GATE! This actually makes sense since the SSSS mark is from the TSA and thus regular MEX security isn’t in on the game. Anyway, the enhanced search at the gate only involved swiping my clothes and bag for gunpowder residue. Not too bad.
The SNA Security Experience & Pat Down!
When we landed in Orange County I was happy since my SWA-LAS boarding pass was absent of the SSSS. After clearing customs with Global Entry, we had to exit and go through security again. At the TSA checkpoint the agent scanned my boarding pass and the light turned red. She then explained that a supervisor had to be called. While she didn’t look at me strangely, I could tell she was a little perplexed and that this didn’t seem to happen often.
To his credit, the supervisor came over right away and explained the SSSS situation to me. He then shuttled me to the front of the security line. He took possession of my passport, boarding pass and my belongings while I went through the scanner. Once he had cleared my bag through X-ray I was brought to a small area within the security area. I was given the option for a private room and declined.
The enhanced screening began with a full pat down. This was the same exact search I went through last year when I decided to opt-out of the scanner at JFK. It isn’t very pleasant. Following the pat down, the supervisor checked the gloves he had used for gunpowder residue. He then searched my bag thoroughly and swabbed everything including my shoes and cellphone for gunpowder residue. When everything came back negative I was free to go.
How Did I Get SSSS
The SSSS mark is somewhat of a mystery since the TSA doesn’t publish their exact criteria for it. According to what I have found, the TSA maintains a list of people who always receive it and randomly gives it out as well. My sincere hope is that this was a one time random thing and that is sort of reinforced by numerous reports I have found on the internet of people getting an SSSS on flights from Mexico City to the US. Only time will tell.
Very Professional and Pleasant
I fly a lot and have thus dealt with a wide variety of TSA employees. In general most of them are sort of indifferent, while I find about 10% are very rude and 10% are exceptionally nice. I want to say that the TSA employees at SNA including the supervisor were great. They were doing their job, but were kind and respectful the entire time. I sincerely thank them for that.
I had been reading a lot about the dreaded SSSS these past few weeks and was very sad when I saw it on my boarding pass. Thankfully my experience wasn’t a terrible one, but I still don’t feel the need to do it again. For now I’m going to think positive thoughts and assume this was completely random. Of course I fly again in a couple of weeks, so I will know soon enough.