You Never Want to See These Four Letters on Your Boarding Pass

There goes your relaxing pre-flight cocktail at the airport bar.

Beyond locating your seat number and confirming the boarding time, how much attention do you really pay to all the information printed on your boarding pass? 

Well, you might want to make a more thorough examination the next time your pass is printed out at the airport. That's because, if you see the letters SSSS printed on it, your trip through the airport is about to become far less pleasant.

The letters stand for "Secondary Security Screening Selection" and if they appear on your boarding pass, it means your name has been added to the super-secret Selectee List via the TSA’s prescreening program, Security Flight System.

This system, explains Travel + Leisure, matches up names against trusted traveler lists and the TSA's watchlist "before taking the screening instructions back to the airlines and identifying whether passengers are low-risk and eligible for TSA Pre-Check; are on the Selectee List for enhanced screening, or will simply receive the standard screening."

So how do you land on this list anyway? The Telegraph points out that reportedly 1,877,133 people are on the U.S. government's "no-fly" list, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has its own Do Not Board List for people with a “communicable disease constituting a public health threat." Travel + Leisure cites a 2015 Skift article, which claims the SSSS "kiss of death" is will also be applied to passengers who have booked an expensive last-minute, one-way, fare or paid in cash." 

The TSA also says that it can happen totally at random, so here's what to know should you be one of the unlucky ones. If you are selected, you won’t be able to print out your boarding pass at home  — it will need to be done at the airport. Along with a full search, passengers, according to T+L, "can expect to get screened through portable metal detectors, in addition to potentially receiving a full-body pat-down inspection and having their carry-on baggage opened and examined." Frustrating, time-consuming, for sure, but Travel +Leisure's advice is to "just be polite and follow TSA instructions until the screening is over, then you'll be on your way." Easier said than done for those, like BBC correspondent Baham Kalbasi, who gets SSSS "on EVERY flight."

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