What Does “SSSS” Mean on Boarding Pass?

Posted by Frank Gogol
Updated on May 9, 2022

Air travel is sometimes confusing. There are many procedures and documents which are unique to air travel. One of these is boarding passes, which have information about passengers and their airlines. Not all of this information is easy to understand. Read on to find out what “SSSS” means on a boarding pass.

What Does “SSSS” on a Boarding Pass Mean?

SSSS is an abbreviation. It stands for secondary security screening selection. SSSS is only used for flights within or bound for the United States. 

It is used by the Transport Security Administration (TSA) to mark passengers who have been chosen for extra security screening before they are allowed to board their flight.

If you see “SSSS” written on your boarding pass, it means you will have to go through the additional body and luggage searches.

What To Do If You Get an SSSS on Your Boarding Pass

Extra security screening is routinely applied to random passengers at U.S. airports. If you have traveled by air in the U.S. before and never seen “SSSS” before then there is nothing wrong. 

One thing that might help might be to go through security earlier than you might otherwise do because secondary screening takes a long time.

If you see “SSSS” on your boarding pass every time you fly, that means your selection is not random. You might need to investigate more on what SSSS means on a boarding pass. Getting selected repeatedly for secondary screening means you may be on a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) watchlist.

You can address the problem through the DHS’s Traveller Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP). You can submit a Traveller Inquiry Form to the DHS TRIP using the DHS website. The form will require you to fill in your details and the details of the problem you are facing with security screening.

When you do submit your form, the system will generate a Redress Control Number. You can use this number to track the progress of your submission.

Reasons You Might Get SSSS on Your Boarding Pass

There are several reasons why you could end up being selected for secondary security screening by the TSA. 

These reasons include:

  • Itinerary: If the combination of flights you have booked for your trip is unusual in some way, this may trigger a secondary screening. For example, this may be if:
    • You booked your flight at the last minute
    • You booked an international one-way ticket
    • You are traveling from a country that the DHS considers a “high security risk” (if you want to be safe, check your U.S. travel history online).
  • Watchlist: You may end up being selected for secondary screening regularly if you have been placed on a DHS security watchlist. The reasons for being placed on these kinds of lists are not open to the public but they may include:
    • Ethnicity
    • Country of origin
    • Religious affiliation
  • Random: A few passengers are selected for enhanced screening completely at random, with no specific reason.

You don’t have to worry about what SSSS means on a boarding pass if it only happens once. If it happens regularly, you should submit an inquiry to the DHS TRIP.

What Does the Secondary Screening Process Involve?

The TSA’s secondary screening process is a more thorough version of the standard security screening. The process is laid out step by step below.

  1. At the security checkpoint, a TSA agent will scan your boarding pass
  2. This may trigger an alarm on the scanner, such as a loud beep and/or flashing red light.
  3. The agent may tell you, “The airline has randomly selected you for additional screening”.
  4. You will be escorted to the screening area by a higher-ranking agent.
  5. At the screening area, you will be asked to walk through the metal detector and then back again.
  6. You will be asked to go through the body scanner.
  7. An agent will search your body with a physical pat-down. 
  8. A different agent will search all of your luggage thoroughly, and wipe swabs on items in your luggage to check for residue.
  9. The agent will ask you to turn on every electronic device in your luggage. They may also demand to review your personal data such as social media and messages on your phone.
  10. A supervisor may take a photo of your boarding pass and ID and fill out a form.
  11. The supervisor will stamp your boarding pass to indicate that you have been searched.

You should make sure your boarding pass has been stamped when the screening is complete. The airline staff will also scan your pass when you board the plane and it will trigger an alarm again. If your pass is stamped the airline staff will ignore the alarm. Otherwise, they will call TSA agents to the gate to conduct the screening.

The screening process takes 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the efficiency of the people doing it. TSA searches are done in all U.S. airports. You may also be subject to this procedure at a foreign airport if your flight is going to the U.S.

Also note that if you have a connecting flight in the U.S., you may still be selected for secondary screening.

Secondary Security Screening Selection FAQ

The questions below are often asked about what SSSS means on a boarding pass.

Are there any signs that you’ll be subjected to additional security?

Not really. Unless it happens regularly and you have come to expect it, there is no reliable way to know if your boarding pass will have SSSS on it. 

One potential sign might be if you are unable to print a boarding pass from your computer at home, or you can’t load a virtual boarding pass on your smartphone.

Being selected for additional security screening isn’t the only reason you might not be able to get a self-service boarding pass, but it’s one possibility. 

The only way to know for sure is if you have your boarding pass and there’s “SSSS” written on it.

What can you do if you frequently get “SSSS?”

If you routinely get SSSS on your boarding pass, the TSA agent will still tell you that you have been randomly selected every time, but that is not accurate. The more likely explanation is that your name has been placed on a national security watchlist by the DHS.

You can submit an inquiry about this situation to the DHS TRIP system on the DHS website. If your inquiry is successful, you will no longer see SSSS on your boarding passes all the time.

Can you get “SSSS” if you have TSA PreCheck?

No. TSA PreCheck is a simplified security screening that people enrolled in the program can benefit from. Normally, anyone who is enrolled in the PreCheck program does not have to go through normal security screening at U.S. airports. If you use TSA PreCheck, remember to renew it. Read more here on how how to renew TSA PreCheck.

If you get SSSS on your boarding pass then you will not be eligible for PreCheck for that trip. Instead, you will have to go through the same enhanced security screening as other passengers with SSSS on their boarding pass.

Final Thoughts 

Many travelers are unsure what “SSSS” means on a boarding pass. It is a designation used by the TSA. If you see SSSS on your boarding pass, it means you have to go through an additional security screening. It applies to all U.S. airports. It may also apply at a foreign airport for a flight bound to the U.S. If it rarely happens, you don’t have to do anything. If it happens all the time, you should submit an inquiry form to the DHS TRIP.


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