What You Don’t Want To See On Your Boarding Pass

by SharonKurheg

Even if you don’t have a degree in reading boarding passes, you can usually figure out what most of the stuff is:


Photo via JetBlue

Your name, the date, your flight info, if you have TSA Pre-Check and your seat are all pretty obvious. You can even find out about what the gobbledeegook numbers and letters represents (most of it can be found here). But there’s one thing you want to hope you don’t see on your boarding pass…


See that SSSS? That’s not good news. It stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection (or Secondary Security Screening Selectee) and it means you’ve been selected to go through additional inspection.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a list of people whose names will be marked for SSSS, although no one knows how many people (it’s said to be in the tens of thousands) or who’s on the list (although it’s suspected that people from certain countries are subject to it by default). They also have a list of criteria for SSSS screening that they don’t make public, but at least some of it is believed to be:

  • Passengers with a one-way reservation
  • Passengers who pay cash for their tickets
  • Random selection

Anyway, those lucky passengers with the aviation equivalent of the scarlet letter on their boarding pass have to go through a more intensive screening process. That may include enhanced pat-downs and their carry-on luggage may also be inspected by hand. If they have film or other items that can’t be X-rayed, the TSA agent may perform a test for possible explosive materials (here’s now to make sure you don’t get a false positive for those!). The screener may also use a hand-held metal detector to search the passenger for metal objects. With all of that being said, when/if you see SSSS on your boarding pass when you print it out, you may want to arrive at the airport a little early and give yourself some extra time, to make sure you get to your gate on time despite this delay.

As long as you have nothing to hide, going through the SSSS process isn’t a huge deal and is nothing to worry about – it’s more of a delay than anything else. But still and all, fingers crossed that you never see those 4 letters on your boarding pass.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Craig December 5, 2022 - 3:35 pm

Had SSSS happen twice, both times at LHR. I’ve had PreCheck for 10 years and no other problems

E C O September 1, 2023 - 10:04 pm

I get SSSS lots of times lately. My travel patterns are spontaneous and one way. They do a great job. I get an ALARM sometimes. No big deal.
HNL airport TSA can be 90°F and Humid. Miserable. The “Myth” of paradise and open air living . It’s too hot if there is no Tradewinds.
If I get SSSS, I just stand in front of that big ass fan they got lol. 10 mins to 20 mins delay at times.


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