Meaning of 'SSSS' on airline boarding passes?

I’ve just returned from a business trip to St John’s, Newfoundland. The Pit thread on the humiliating intrusion and ludicrous inefficiency of having my bags and person rummaged through three times each way I’ll do later; for now I have a General Question.

My boarding passes for the St. John’s - Newark and Newark - Houston legs of my journey carried the letters ‘SSSS’ on the main part of the pass and its stub, separate from all other printed symbols and identifications. The passes for my outbound legs did not carry this designation.

In Newark, when I went through security to get my connecting flight after having passed through customs, this code seemed to set off the obnoxious TSA rep who was guarding the metal detector. Upon looking at my boarding pass, he took out a purple pen and drew throught the ‘SSSS’ designations, then insisted on examining every item of my carry-on, including flicking through the contents of my wallet, something that no one has never been done in dozens of flights I’ve made since the TSA was formed. I know I’m sounding paranoid here, but have I been put on a list for extra scrutiny?

Nope, you’re not paranoid. That’s the TSA’s designation of “Selected for Secondary Security Screening.” You can get the Mark if you appear nervous, buy tickets in cash, or raise any number of other suspicions.


Airline type here …

Larry Mudd’s got it. Anything at all can trigger the SSSS designation, which we in the business refer to as the “super stupid strip search”.

Short-notice purchases, or cash, or one way reservation, or the phase of the moon, or anything else can trigger it. A certain number are chosen entirely at random from otherwise unsuspicious persons just to increase the number of people getting SSSS treatment. That increases the odds a real bad guy with no suspicious features will still get extra scrutiny. It also reduces the ods the bad guys can repeatedly probe the system and figure out what triggers scrutiny and what doesn’t. The selection logic changes regularly for the same reason. Any concern for the rights and benefits of US citizenship seems to have been lost in the process however.

I had to buy a round trip ticket a few months ago, and it ended up that the out and back were flown by different airlines who were marketing “partners”. The system flagged that as two one-way tickets and I got the SSSS both ways.

If it starts happening to you every time you fly, then you need to contact the TSA to see about how you got on some shit-list and how you can get off. I don’t have the details on that process. But I doubt that’s the case here.

Can you explain what you mean here? Constitutional jurisprudence is plain that randomized searches do not violate rights under the constitution; it is the non-random searches, particularly those based on perceived race/ethnicity/nationality that raise our collective constitutional eyebrows. I understand this is true in England, as well as America. Are you saying that the purportedly randomized screening is, in fact, not random?

I’ve been wondering this too. If I could ask a related/follow-up question: If the passengers know beforehand whether they are getting the extra-invasive search, wouldn’t that defeat the purpose? They could throw out the bomb/boxcutter/whatever if they get the SSSS on their pass, and keep trying until they get a boarding pass without the SSSS.

I knew it!

A couple of years ago I was travelling from Taipei to Santa Barbara through San Francisco. I bought what I thought was a Chinese mask key chain for my nephew in the Taipei airport and put it in my carry on luggage.

After going through customs, I had to go back through domestic security. I was jet lagged and bleary eyed. Security pulled out the key chain and lo and behold, it was actually a key chain/lighter combination. I had no idea. Even though there was no lighter fluid, it was still not allowed on the plane.

My connecting flight was coming up quickly but I had to check the bag if I wanted to keep the lighter. I was finally first in line and the person ahead of me walked off. I picked up my bag to go to the airline employee when the person walked back with one more question. I went to put down my bag but it slipped out of my fingers and dropped to the floor.

When I went to the counter, the nasty bitch airline employee got in my face and asked me what was my problem and why did I “slam” down my bag. I told her that I didn’t and that I dropped it. She gave me a bunch more shit, took my bag and then ripped my boarding pass in half and gave me a new one that had SSSS on it.

When I got to security, the guard took me aside and asked me if everything was OK. I told him what happened and he rolled his eyes and apologized and even joked around with me a little bit.

It would seem that another use of the SSSS is for miserable power tripping assholes to get revenge for whatever it is I was supposed to have done.


My dad is on the “shit-list”. He’s a retired US Army Brigadier General and cannot seem to get off of it. He’s done everything suggested and no change whatsoever. He’s talking to a couple of Congressmen he knows to see if a little high-level pull will help.

I don’t see how wasting time on retired military officers and Medal of Honor winners helps the TSA make our airlines more secure. It’s all just a bunch of tail chasing, IMO.

OK, I think I’ve figured out what happened. I was supposed to leave St. John’s on Saturday, but Continental’s single daily flight had a mechanical fault and was cancelled, with the plane held over for departure the next day as an extra service. As there was no other routing I could have taken that would have gotten me back before the next day, I didn’t kick about having to overnight there, but I did express annoyance about two things: 1) the gate agent not making a general announcement that the flight was cancelled, leaving the passengers to sort of figure it out for themselves; 2) having to ask the same agent who could plainly see from my documentation that I was not a local resident, to comp me a hotel room. Even at that, it’s not like I shouted or swore at her; jeepers, I merely adopted an annoyed tone, for heaven’s sake.

So, apparently, there you have it folks. Anything at all other than being a docile little sheep, and some airline drone with a 'tude can put the Feds on you.


Why don’t you make a complaint to the airline? She shouldn’t be allowed to get away with that.

I intend to, but this will be hampered by the fact that I do not have the name of the specific agent.

Nevertheless, CO’s Contract of Carriage, which I have just downloaded from their site, states that they grant an overnight stay and two meals for delay situations such as mine. The agent took both meal vouchers out of the voucher book before handing it over to me. Whether this was because she didn’t know the rules or was more ball-busting on her part, I do not know.

last trip to the us w/ family and i got this. first time i took all handcarry and china bambina wiyh me. second time i got the ssss, i gave absolutely everything except ticket and passport to china wife who went through regular screening.

yep, a family on vacation was able to figure oit a simple way to circumvent security. waste of time and money whilst maybe even providing someone out there with a false sense of security


I’m interested to see if anyone else has ever encountered this…and if Kaboom did something unusual to trigger this.

I’ve traveled a few times with a friend who was wrongly indicted for a felony several years back…it was all eventually dropped, but if a criminal background check is run on him, there is a flag.

Every time we’ve been thru security at an airport, they make him take off his shoes and run the wand all over him and take an extra 5 minutes for him to pass through. He’s so used to it that he dresses specifically to speed the process…slip on shoes, sweat pants with no pockets, etc. He doesn’t try to carry anything on the plane. It all gets checked.

They always go through his checked luggage too.

We always wondered if there was something that indicated to the security people that he should be checked more thoroughly.

Oops…sorry for asking for a bump.

I kept the page open for several hours and when I came back to the computer, I thought I hit “reload” and was surprised to see no replies. I must’ve missed the reload button.

I got an SSSS ticket when I was working an engagment that had me flying once a week. I had tried to book America West with my company’s travel service but unbeknownst to me they booked me on southwest which had a flight at nearly the same time and a few dollars cheaper. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t check in at the AW counter and handed them my itenerary. Rather than tell me I made a mistake and needed the SW counter they just printed a ticket and sent me on my way. I asked the security person why I got extra screening and they said probably something like a last minute ticket purchase. He was really nice and so far that has been my experience. I make it a point to be extra courteous to them since they probably have to deal with a thousand assholes every day.

Having also been the recipient of an SSSS boarding pass, I will grant them that they are nice during the ordeal. Still, it was somewhat unpleasant and embarrassing to be standing barefoot with arms out like Christ on the cross while somebody I don’t know is going through every piece of paper in my wallet and everybody in my flight who didn’t get the SSSS pass (and more than a few passengers bound for other flights) watch.

They are nice about it. But no matter how nice they are, I’ve decided that the next time I have to get to the United States and/or I have to travel within it, I’m either driving or taking a train.

It could simply be that he has the same name as somebody they’re ‘watching’.

I got one when I flew back from Maui in January, 2004. It was an electronic ticket and I was the only one that handled it, so the SSSS was definitely a random addition. The best part about it, was I got all the way to handing my boarding pass to the flight attendant to board before anyone noticed it.

So I was pulled to the side, then had to wait until the TSA guy showed up to wand and search my carry on. I think some of my fellow passengers kind of wondered about why I was singled out. :stuck_out_tongue:

The very best part of it though, was getting home, unpacking my carry on, and finding the Leatherman knockoff (including 2 blades) that had made it through 3 security checkpoints and the physical search, with not a word being said. Makes me feel safe flying, you betcha! :rolleyes:

I get picked for the “full treatment” 8 times out of ten. Friends have hypothesized it is due to appearance (long hair, tattoos) along with destination (I happen to like Jamaica and the Carribean).

But ask the TSA ? What would they suggest…a haircut? Vacationing in Cleveland?

I will continue as I have, being civil while seething inside.

I got SSSS’d once, but it was entirely my fault. My liscence expired while I was out of town. The security people in San Fransisco were pretty decent about it, overall.

I got it on a business trip last year. I fly about 30-40 legs a year and this was the only time I got singled out. I had a Denver - Salt Lake City - Spokane - Denver trip. The first and last leg was on United, and counted as a round trip, while the SLC - Spokane was a one way on Delta. I figured that was why I got the attention.

If you’re going to be pulled aside for extra searching, I recommend you have it done in Salt Lake City. Those people are polite. Odd, but polite.