Here's What to Expect if You See SSSS on Your Boarding Pass

SAVING & SPENDING - TRAVEL
The letters “SSSS” on your boarding pass can add up to a huge hassle when going through security. Here’s everything you need to know.
Updated April 11, 2024
Fact checked
Man with SSSS boarding pass at airport security

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Your boarding pass is a bit like a lottery ticket when it comes to how much time you’ll spend going through security. Get randomly assigned TSA PreCheck and you win! You’ll fly through security. But if you get the dreaded “SSSS” mark on your boarding pass, expect your security check to be a lot more involved.

What does SSSS mean on your boarding pass?

Seeing the letters “SSSS” in the corner of your boarding pass indicates you’ve been chosen for “Secondary Security Screening Selection.” This is a prescreening selection that’s part of the Secure Flight Program administered by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and it means you’ll need to undergo a variety of additional security measures before boarding.

You won’t know if you have an SSSS designation until you get to the airport, since you’ll be unable to print your boarding pass ahead of your arrival if you’ve been selected. You can be chosen for any flight arriving in, departing out of, or connecting through a U.S. airport.

Why might you be flagged for SSSS?

The TSA won’t tell you why you’ve been selected for extra screening and also doesn’t provide official information on the reasons for selection. But many sources indicate that you may be selected for suspicious flight patterns, such as one-way international flights; last-minute bookings; or traveling from a country deemed “high-risk.” Avoid paying for airfare with cash, since it’s possible that this might get you flagged as well.

But sometimes, your selection might be completely random. If this happens to you, stay calm, be patient, and learn what to expect to make the experience more manageable.

What to expect if you have SSSS on your boarding pass

After showing the security agent your ID and boarding pass, you’ll be directed to another agent or team of agents who will begin the screening procedures. You’ll be able to cut the rest of the line from there.

Not all searches are alike, but you can expect to go through a metal detector and full-body scanner, sometimes multiple times, before receiving a complete pat-down. You can request to have this done in private if you’ll be more comfortable.

The lengthiest part of the process will involve the TSA agents inspecting everything you’ve brought with you. They’ll also swab both your items and hands in order to detect any explosive residue. You might also be asked to turn on your electronics.

The entire process can take 10 to 30 minutes — sometimes longer — which is why it’s always a good idea to arrive early and allow plenty of extra time.

FAQs

Will I always get SSSS on my boarding passes from now on?

Not necessarily. If you booked a one-way or last-minute flight but that’s not typically how you travel, you might not see SSSS appear again. But if you’ve visited “high-risk” countries or have had criminal charges against you, you might get SSSS on your boarding pass repeatedly.

Can TSA PreCheck or Global Entry membership prevent SSSS?

While TSA PreCheck and Global Entry can be great ways to save time while traveling, applying for one of these programs will not protect you from an SSSS designation. You won’t see your usual TSA PreCheck designation on your boarding pass if you’re chosen for additional screening. Some of the best travel credit cards can help offset the cost of TSA PreCheck and Global Entry if you're interested in the service. 

How does an SSSS boarding pass affect my connecting flights?

An SSSS boarding pass and a connecting flight can cause double the stress, since you may need to go through additional screening multiple times. However, that’s not always the case. Check each individual boarding pass for each flight segment so that you’re prepared.

How can I avoid SSSS in the future?

Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way to prevent being selected for SSSS. However, if you notice that you’re getting selected repeatedly, you can find out what a redress control number is and apply through the Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP).

If you’ve been experiencing frequent delays due to security screenings, this is an opportunity for the DHS to resolve any issues that may have designated you as a risk. Find out if applying for a redress number is the right choice for you, and note that it may take a month or longer for the DHS to process your application.

Keep calm and travel on

A delay due to extra security screenings can cost you time and money, but that doesn’t mean you should panic if you see SSSS on your boarding pass. Always allow plenty of time to navigate through security, especially if you have difficulty printing your boarding pass prior to arrival at the airport.

And remember to stay positive and cooperate with the TSA agents, who are just doing their jobs to try to ensure the safety of all travelers. Unfortunately, even choosing the best credit cards for your travel tickets can't save you from this process. Hopefully, you’ll arrive at your destination without any hiccups, and your extensive security search will become a distant memory.

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Author Details

Lindsay Frankel Lindsay Frankel is a Denver-based freelance writer who specializes in credit cards, travel, budgeting/saving, and shopping. She has been featured in several finance publications, including LendingTree. When she's not writing, you can find her enjoying the great outdoors, playing music, or cuddling with her rescue pup.

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