How does one get on the "extra-careful search" list at the airport?

I just flew from Tampa to Chicago and back. Departing from the Tampa International Airport, I just went through the usual search procedure – which is still pretty strict these days compared with pre-9/11 (you have to take off your shoes and put them in the bin that goes through the x-ray machine). Flying out of O’Hare Airport in Chicago, OTOH, I was instructed to go to this security checkpoint line which was noticeably shorter than the others; and, out of that line, I was one of two passengers selected to go off to the side for an extra close inspection. I had to sit in a chair while the guard ran a wand over my stocking feet, then stand up for an all-over wand search and pat-down search, unbuckle my belt, etc. Why was I on the “extra-careful search” list? I can think of only two things: I was convicted, several years back, of misdemeanor possession of marijuana; and I’m a member of several leftist political organizations, including the Democratic Socialists of America and the Socialist Party USA. Is either of those enough to warrant differential treatment in the America we’re living in now? What else would get you on the list? Membership in a peace group? Swarthy skin? An Arabic-sounding name? Are there any published rules on this? Also, is there any way I could find out how I got on the list? Could I submit a FOIA request? If so, to what agency? FBI? DHS? FAA?

I don’t know the details and I don’t have a cite, but I’m fairly certain that some people are chosen entirely at random to be searched a little more carefully. I don’t think it’s quite as extensive as what you’ve described, though, so it’s probably not the answer to your question.

There are several factors that can get you nominated for additional screening. If it was done before your ticket was issued, you probably get the dreaded “SSSS” on your boarding pass. Factors include things like buying a ticket on short notice with cash or credit card or having a name that is similar to one on a watch list. I’ve never seen a canonical list of factors, though, and the ticket agent doesn’t know. He or she prints out your boarding pass; they don’t write it.

Even if you don’t have the four esses, the screeners are periodically charged to conduct random additional screenings on passengers. Basically, they keep the chairs occupied. One person gets cleared, another is taken.

Don’t flatter yourself. Your misdemeanor drug charge and leftist leanings didn’t do it. It’s far more impersonal and bureaucratic than that.

Recently I flew from Baltimore to Rhode Island for a family friend’s son’s bar mitzvah. On the way back to Baltimore, my father and I were chosen, at random according to the security guard, to undergo a more extensive search. This involved getting swabbed for what I presume was explosive materials and going into this chamber thing that blew puffs of air on us. The guards also went through our luggage. This has never happened to me nor my father before, so I’m willing to bet that these searches really are random, especially since neither of us have made any offenses in the past.

What I’m really wondering is what that puff chamber was for. I felt like I was at the eye doctor’s getting tested for glaucoma.

Okay, here’s some hints.

If you are “strongly advised” to take your shoes off, DO IT. If you don’t they will automatically select you for more personal attention.

Right before general boarding begins, the “extra special” screeners are standing around with nothing to do. The first one or two people who charge up to board the plane will be grabbed and groped. Let the screeners get started, then board. But don’t be too obvious about it, or they’ll be suspicious and search you!

If your ticket (or group if you are travelling with others) is tagged, there is nothing you can do. And US airlines don’t run checks on people who buy tickets, so it wasn’t about you specifically.

I recently heard a right-wing talk show host on the radio complaining about being run through this, so I doubt it’s your leftist leanings. I think they choose some people at random.

Yep. The leftist organisations are just that - organisations (just like the right wing ones). Being organised they would soon be able to collate data to point at their members being discriminated against, and being legal organisations, they’d probably be on top of any court action. Not only that, but they’d scream blue murder in the media, and the govt would not want the negative publicity. I don’t think its happening - if it is, they are probably only screening as many political activists as they think they can get away with before people notice, so it can’t be much above the background random level, and I doubt they’d bother.

If it makes you feel any better, Mrs. Kunilou has an artificial knee, which means she sets off the metal detector every time she flies. She carries her doctor’s certificate, and the 9" scar on her leg should tell them something, but she’s the one you always see in the chair, with the wand, the pat down, the shoe inspection and everything else.

We just finished a trip to Japan, and got this treatment on two continents.

Do you by any chance take a lot of one-way flights? My dad does this when he travels on business (going from one city to another before returning home), and he seems to have gotten on a list that gets him pulled aside every time he flies. We’re not absolutely sure that that’s it, but it’s the only reason that would make any sense at all.

Same with my wife—she has a cochlear implant. The festivities always start when she tries to explain to them that she can’t go through the metal detector because she has a magnet in her head. You can imagine the scenario from there… :rolleyes:

Ask Yusaf Islam, he might be able to tell you. Of course they didn’t search him right away, he just showed up on a list after he flew.

I am here to tell you to make sure your drivers license is updated well before the expiry. A few days before my B-day, I got called away to Denver. By the time I was on my way home, the silly thing was expired. After a few chats with the airline staff, I did get my SSSS boarding pass and the special Osama bin Laden treatment at security.

Hm. All I have to do is forget to take the spare change out of my pocket before going through the detector.

I just got that wonderful SSSS, including the special chamber, for one segment of on my last trip because it was on another airline and so it appeared to be a one-way ticket. Silly.

BrainGlutton ,
If this is the only time this has happened to you, almost for sure, you were just part of a random search. Now, if this is a repeated occurrence, then it may very well be that your name is very similar to someone else on a watch list, or maybe you’re on the watch list. During your search, were you informed that you were on the security watch list? If yes, you should ask the TSA how to get your name removed from the list, but it won’t be a quick process.

Ehhhh? I’ve had a cochlear implant for 18 years and never had a problem going through a metal detector. Furthermore, it’s never set off the metal detector.

      • There was a story in the newspaper a while back about a guy who got stopped from boarding a plane because his name was Charles G. Taylor. The same name as the deposed Liberian president who absconded with a huge pile of his own country’s money. What was funny was that this guy was a pudgy WHITE guy from the suburbs of Cleveland or somewhere like that…

I bought a plane ticket the night before my red eye flight with my credit card on the internet and got the full step over here in the special line treatment take off your belt and let us x-ray your shoes thing. I guess they think terrorists are impulsive, like the internet and have good credit.

It was to see if you were smuggling dragons.

Everytime I’ve missed a flight (happens more often than it should) and flown stand-by, I’ve been flagged for the “extra” attention. Always adds a little more frustration to an already frustrating day.