What Does “SSSS” on My Boarding Pass Mean?

Updated June 22, 2020.

It’s Travel Tip Tuesday! On our recent trip home from Venice, my husband had some trouble getting access to his boarding pass upon online check in. He received a message saying he needed to get his boarding pass at the airport.

When we got to the airport a few hours before our first flight, we stood in line to get his boarding pass printed—exactly what online check in and mobile boarding passes were created to avoid! No big deal; the line moved along quickly enough, and the desk agent printed his boarding passes for both legs of our journey.

His boarding pass from Marco Polo Airport to Frankfurt was perfectly normal. His boarding pass for our flight from Frankfurt to DC was fine except for one thing: the dreaded SSSS. I’d read about the SSSS on other flyer blogs, but this is the first time it showed up for either of us. Here’s what happened.

The Dreaded SSSS

Why me?

Everyone for the time being has to go through a secondary security check when flying to the US from Europe, but if you get the SSSS, you’re lucky enough to get yet another security check! Sometimes it’s random. Sometimes it’s because there is something unusual about your reservation. It’s not necessarily your fault, you just drew the short straw this time. It’s the luck of the draw.

What should I expect?

Extra screening.

  • They asked my husband to stand off to the side with other SSSS holders (there were two others), and the real shocker was that they took away all their boarding passes!
  • All three were taken to an area two gates away, and only one person was allowed in at a time.
  • The security officer inside wiped down my husband’s phone and carry-on bag. I’m not sure what those wipes are checking for, but they’re the same ones TSA uses to wipe on your hands when you get flagged at regular security.
  • They asked what was in his water bottle; he said, “Water.”
  • Then they let him go! I was delighted to see him when he joined me on the plane afterward!
He made it!

How long does the extra screening take?

It varies, but to be safe, be at your gate at least 10 minutes prior to the boarding time listed on your boarding pass. If you are super paranoid about it, you can go straight to your gate as soon as you arrive, and ask the person at the desk when they will start the extra screening. Preparedness is power!

Overall, this was not a stressful situation. Don’t panic! Have you ever gotten the dreaded SSSS? Was your experience similar or different? Comment below to tell the tale!

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4 responses to “What Does “SSSS” on My Boarding Pass Mean?”

  1. Mine was similar to your husband except they wiped a lot of things, put it in a machine which showed a green light and that was it. Less than 5 extra minutes. A different time, my friend however got taken to a room (by a female inspector) and he said he had to unpack everything from his carry on bag, open and turn on everything electronic, and he got a full pat down (by a male). His took maybe 40 minutes extra, much of it waiting for the male to come pat him down.

    1. Wow! Totally different every time. I guess that helps make it a more secure process—never the same thing!

  2. I got the SSSS at Heathrow. They seemed just as confused as I did. The extra screening involved taking off my shoes and being in a different line, but that was it. So if there was some plot afoot involving a chubby middle aged woman, I can verify they did not let me slip by! 🤣

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