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Posted by
52 posts

My wife has had it happen twice to her while traveling internationally. Once in Iceland and once in the UK. It wasn't a big deal. More like an inconvenience of having to go through another level of screening before boarding the flight. I'm not sure if it's true or not. But the airport staff at KEF in Iceland stated that the flagging of customers with SSSS on their boarding pass is actually due to a US rule for air travel requiring foreign countries to do random secondary screening before flights departing for the USA. I would say it's wise to pay attention to your boarding pass to see if you drew the SSSS. Most airlines make an announcement letting customers know to look at their boarding passes closely and do the screening ASAP. We saw a couple very upset people who seemed very stressed by having to do the screening just before the flight was to close the doors.

Posted by
3108 posts

I had it happen to me on an international flight pre Covid. I was dreading the extra screening but it worked out great because they took me and the 2 other people I was flying with and pulled us out of the mass of people waiting at the gate. They led us to another area where there were only a few people waiting. They asked me a few questions, hand searched my carryon and we could all wait in the area/room closer to the jetway and were some of the first people on the plane. I don’t expect that it always happens like this, but on this particular flight it almost seemed like VIP treatment rather than the dreaded SSSS.

Posted by
424 posts

A little more than 2 years ago I was unable to generate a boarding pass at my London hotel for the return to Detroit. Of course the reason was that I had been flagged with the dreaded SSSS. The hotel clerk told me that it "happens all the time" and knew what was likely to happen.

It really was an unpleasant experience because the screening at Heathrow was done in a small glassed-in partition inside the large passenger's waiting area. Everyone waiting is watching what goes on behind the glass. I was rather taken aback when they told me to lift my shirt in front of that audience. Fortunately I am in fine shape but it's still rather embarrassing. Should it happen again I think I will ask for the more private option. The worst part is that we travel carry on only which means I had scientifically fit as much as I possibly could into my carry on and personal bags. They made me take out each item one by one and even examined inside my camera's cleaning tissues. It took me a very long time to get everything to fit again. They kept pushing my items over the edge of the table which made me take even longer repacking. The line for SSSS was becoming longer and longer. I felt bad for the screeners doing such an unpleasant unrewarding job.

The experience was made worse because our original flight had been canceled due to weather (most of the flights that morning were canceled) and we lost our premium economy seats in the 2-seat section and could only get economy bulkhead seats on the next available flight 6 hours later. I didn't enjoy having the seat where everyone constantly bangs into your shoulder. Luckily we had arrived early enough to be among the few people who could get the next available so we were thankful for that. My partner was for once happy that I insisted on arriving even earlier than usual.

It was a completely different experience than we had during our security check in Detroit. We aren't signed up for TSA pre-check but they directed us to the TSA pre-check where there was no line and we just walked through.

It was a long frustrating day. Now I dread not being able to generate the boarding pass in advance. The worst was having to repack my carry on in a hurry while they push my items off the table.

Posted by
325 posts

I've had this extra screening, and it was a bit stressful while it was happening, but I had forgotten about it until I read this post. Getting taken to a separate location upped by anxiety level to a whole new level, but I remained cool (I think).

We've also had it where there was just a table set up at the gate and you never lose sight of other passengers. That has always seemed totally random.

Posted by
1598 posts

Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences. It all sounds like a pain in the keister just for the inconvenience.
Silas Marner: Hopefully they never ask me to "lift" my shirt. I have no problem whipping it off and I'm sure they will be more embarrassed by a half naked 70+ year old lady than I will be.

Posted by
7685 posts

We used to get SSSS frequently in the US during the years after 9/11. Just an inconvenience.

Posted by
795 posts

My DH used to get it even though we have Pre-Check, Global Entry and Nexus. Then he realized it was because he was traveling domestically and internationally while holding an open return ticket from Dublin (left over from a re-arranged business trip). Once he used that open ticket the SSSS disappeared.

Posted by
1816 posts

Is it just in the US?
I haven't heard of this for Canadian flights.

Posted by
236 posts

I am a retired airline employee and travel non-rev 99% of the time. I got the SSSS in Budapest in Oct. 2019 when I was traveling with my two friends who were also flying non-rev. This was the first time I've ever had it, despite numerous international trips. It was an inconvenience, as they pulled out everything from my bags (I was doing carry on only). Thankfully most of my stuff was in packing cubes but it was still quite a hassle trying to get everything to fit back in my bag the way it was packed originally. And, as it turns out, the flight was full so we couldn't even get on that flight to head back to the U.S. We ended up taking a train to a different city to fly home.

Posted by
5567 posts

SSSS = "Secondary Security, Somebody's Screwed"

Posted by
52 posts

They used to do it all the time to non-revs who hadn't listed themselves on a return flight. It was so stupid. It stopped 6 or 7 years ago (for me, at least), as if by magic.

Posted by
2461 posts

We got it at Schipol Airport this past September, returning to NY. They told us it was because we were coming from Zagreb. We asked if something happened since we left, but they never answered. They just swabbed all zippers and our shoes, did a quick pat down, and looked quickly through our carry on. We had checked our bags. We were then Allowed to board the plane first.

Posted by
4449 posts

I had one year was I had the extra special SSSS tickets for international flights - ugh! On the way to Cambodia, they routed me into an extra “behind the curtain” processing. In Madrid, they had two tables in a room near the plane where they were dumping out the contents of suitcases. As previous responses said, it was going to be very annoying because I had everything carefully packed in packing cubes, and they were rushing the people to get packed up to be able to use the table for the next “special person”. Fortunately, they opened my carry-on, removed my sweater on top of my packing cubes, and they could see everything neatly through the RS mesh packing cubes. They just fingered the crevices between cubes and let me go.

Posted by
343 posts

The code is probably unique to the US - but its a global thing. My partner got a lot of scrutiny at check in once in Perth, Australia flying to New Zealand - I was with him but not flying. They took his passport away -talked to supervisors - it was like nothing we'd ever seen with Qantas. Finally they asked who booked the ticket - and he pointed me out and they called me over. We finally figured out it was because I'd booked the flight that morning one way - he was flying home for an emergency - and one way on a NZ passport.

IF he'd been denied entry to NZ ( which is actually impossible as he has a NZ passport) Qantas would have to pay for his repatriation - hence the excitement at check in.

I fully expect to have to explain why we're flying to the US on a one-way ticket in July - not sure if we'll actually have to show our cruise tickets out of the US but I'll have them on my phone just in case.

Posted by
1935 posts

Yep, has happened to my spouse twice -- both times his ticket was on the same double booking as mine (or whatever the term is for two people traveling together), and we were both in Business Class....once I think once was a returning connecting thru Toronto. And, he had active Global Entry status. This was several years ago.

I had him hand me all his neck wallet with cash/credit cards and his tote with electronics/watch/camera/phone, etc. before we approached security, so he could "travel light" thru security. Just sort of a pain to have to take off one's belt, shoes, etc.....and if he had been traveling by himself, no one to keep a constant eye on his important stuff while he was patted down, etc. And, if we did not know in advance was the SSSSS meant, it would have been a real mess of disrobing secured items, which would have made the belt/watch/shoes seem as no big deal. As it was, we could prep. And, that also makes me wonder if a real genuine bad guy could do the same (with potentially frightening carry ons), if they were traveling with a partner bad guy.

But, I guess it is still good the random selection includes Global Entry people, high-mileage Frequent Fliers, and Business Class people who have traveled a lot...........because I guess anyone could go to extremes if they were a uni-bomber or if they ultimately decided to become one after going thru the vetting to obtain Global Entry......unlikely, but I guess the system knows what it is doing.

Another time, he was pulled from line and a TSA rep told him the airline could over-ride the code, so dear hubby went to the check-in desk vs. standing in the long line for manual screening........nada.........just caused more delay as the TSA agent was apparently not well informed. I asked for permission to go back thru screening to collect his money/credit cards, etc. and (IF I am remembering correctly) they wound up bringing that bag of stuff to me, so the screening person in front of me could manually pick thru it in my sight, as my spouse waited in the cattle line to go thru.

Yeeesh........you all are making me remember how much "fun" (typed sarcastically) travel can be.

Posted by
3021 posts

I got selected for secondary screening at the Frankfurt airport in October. No SSSS or other designation like asterisk S asterisk on my boarding pass.

Posted by
488 posts

My husband and I both got SSSS’d on our return from Spain a couple of months ago. The special screening happened on our layover at CDG (where nothing good happened to us that trip), at the gate. We gave our carryons to our teenage daughter, who boarded the plane with them, and just had to deal with my personal bag being screened (my husband doesn’t have one).

Posted by
821 posts

My husband and I are Cree. I look like my mother's side of the family (Finnish), but my husband looks sort of generically "person of colour" -ish. He could be Asian, he could be from the Middle East, he could be from Mexico--depending on the context, he has been mistaken for all of these. So, he has often been "randomly" selected for extra screening, while I rarely am (flying on the same ticket). He has had some kind of sensor wand put down his pants in full view of other passengers--that was probably the time that upset him the most. (That one was at Munich airport.)

We've sort of come to expect it, although now that his hair is all grey instead of dark, dark brown (almost black), it happens less frequently.

Posted by
12880 posts

Never had the SSSS on my boarding pass and never was selected for secondary screening once I passed through the TSA

flying domestically or internationally, or by security at a foreign airport. I don't expect to get the SSSS on the boarding pass.

Return flight to Calif. was / is always from Paris CDG, FRA, or London Gatwick or LHR.

Posted by
424 posts

I certainly never expected to see the "SSSS" appear on a pass nor had any reason to think it would happen. I had been flying domestically and internationally out of Detroit on Northwest/Delta since 1977 for college, work and pleasure, hundreds of flights. I certainly wasn't chosen based on my appearance as I couldn't generate the boarding pass at the hotel long before I ever appeared at LHR. I wasn't pulled aside at the airport for additional searching. I was chosen long before that. Also, it was as if we were propelled through security with privilege when we first departed Detroit. It was almost as if Delta was preparing me to be humiliated at LHR. From what I've gathered it's just a randomly generated event that I somehow had avoided before.

A 7th generation US citizen, a Ford Motor Company retiree who worked his entire life in Dearborn MI, lived in the same home for 30 years and always traveled with his spouse hardly fits any risk profile. In fact it seems rather futile to only deep search one party in a couple traveling together. If I had known what I faced I would have only plopped down my personal bag and left the carry on with my partner. How effective is screening 1 of a party of 2?

I don't believe anyone can say with any certainty that it will never happen to them,

Posted by
106 posts

We went through this also, at the Frankfurt airport. Just to reiterate, it’s not unusual to be pulled before boarding and afterwards they did escort us to the front of the boarding line but for Pete’s sake don’t get angry about it. One gentleman in our group was loudly and angrily expressing his displeasure with being delayed from boarding and the German police promptly escorted him off and weren’t pleasant about it.