SSSS – The four letters you never want to see on your boarding pass

These four letters mean you have been selected for Secondary Security Screening.


These four letters mean you have been selected for Secondary Security Screening.

They are the four letters you never want on your boarding pass, and for one British traveller, seeing them caused him to “panic” at the airport.

The letters “SSSS” stand for Secondary Security Screening Selection and are generally used for international flights into the US.

Stewart Jackson, from London, has revealed how he ended up randomly chosen to receive extra security checks on a recent flight to New York.

He said he had encountered issues trying to check in the night before his trip, but it wasn’t until he was at the airport that he received the dreaded news that he had SSSS on his pass.

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The extra security measure was brought in by the US Transport Security Administration after the 9/11 terror attacks.

It means you will get an extra pat down and you will need to give more details on your travel plans. You could possibly end up going through the metal detector and body scanner again.

Jackson said airline staff took him out of the queue when he said he had trouble checking-in online.

“After she’d punched in my passport number she said ‘Oh!’ and my heart started pounding when she did that. I was convinced there was a problem and I wouldn’t be allowed to fly,” Jackson told The Sun.

“The employee saw the panic in my eyes and explained the reason for the error when checking in was that I’d already been pre-selected for extra screening.”

Jackson said he was directed behind a screen next to the gate for extra pat downs, while his hands and pockets were swabbed. The extra security measures didn’t delay the boarding of the flight.

While having SSSS added to a boarding pass is supposed to be random, there are claims that travelers get branded if they pay for a plane ticket by using cash or regularly buy one-way tickets. They could also end up on the list if they have visited certain “high-risk” countries, or more unluckily, if they have a name that is similar to others on a watch list.

For journalist Ashlea Halpern, her security process was more intense. After finding SSSS on her boarding pass, she nearly missed her flight due to the detailed search.

“My partner and I were separated from our shoes, coats, and electronics; asked to pass through a metal detector and body scanner; and then subjected to a full-body pat down. Our hands and feet were swabbed for trace explosives. Every inch of our carry-ons was unpacked and scrutinized; same for the checked luggage. The TSA agents were polite and professional, but the delay nearly caused us to miss our flight,” she wrote in Condé Nast.

Those travelers who feel they are being targeted too often are advised to visit the Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP) website, although there is no guarantee that SSSS won’t appear in the future on their boarding pass.

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