by Hugh Morris, The Telegraph, September 25, 2017
“It’s always me,” is not an uncommon refrain from passengers who are told to step out of line at airport security for a full frisk.
Chances are it’s not “always you”, but one day it might be.
If your boarding pass has the letters SSSS printed on it, it means your card is quite literally marked and you’re all set for a thorough examination. The letters stand for Secondary Security Screening Selection and if they appear on your boarding pass, it means your name is on a highly classified roster - the Selectee List.
Once they come to pass through security, they’ll likely be subject to “enhanced” pat-downs while their luggage might be inspected by hand. All being well, they will still be allowed to fly but they must jump through a few hoops first. Designed by the US's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for flights using American airspace, the SSSS tag means that passengers are also limited in their airport habits - they can not print out their boarding passes at home (they will receive an error message) nor check in at a kiosk; they must visit a counter, where their identification can be verified.
The TSA says that it identifies “low and high-risk passengers before they arrive at the airport by matching their names against trusted traveller lists and watch lists”. So how do you end up on the SSSS list?
So if you’re on the US government’s No Fly List - said to include 1,877,133 individuals - or the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s Do Not Board List for people with a “communicable disease constituting a public health threat”, you are likely to end up with an SSSS on your boarding pass.
There are other traits, too, the TSA look out for when creating their database:
- Passengers booking a one-way flight
- Passengers who pay for their ticket in cash
- “Random selection”
The TSA once said there were no minors on the list. However, it has been reported that children with the same names of those on the SSSS list have had trouble obtaining boarding passes.
Another way to find yourself on the SSSS list is to be Gerry Adams, president of Irish republican party, Sinn Fein, who posted a picture of his SSSS-marked boarding pass to Twitter.
What of other notable boarding passes? As is evident from other photos posted on social media, numerous people end up with SSSS on their pass - some completely bewitched as to why.
The awkward pairing
One of our writers spotted what he perceived to be the most inappropriate boarding pass he had ever come across. Flying from Iran to Turkey, the names of his respective airports - in Tehran and Istanbul - paired the Islamic Republic’s stern ayatollah, Imam Khomeini, who once imprisoned a woman for attempting to watch a men’s volleyball match, with one of Turkey’s foremost female combat pilots and adopted daughter of Turkey’s arch-secularist leader Mustafa Ataturk, Sabiha Gokcen.
The hand-written one
One of the key qualities of a boarding pass is that it should be impossible to forge or create one’s own. That goes out the window somewhat when they’re made by hand - just a scrawled destination on a napkin.
Something similar happened last year when Malaysian authorities rounded on Rayani Air, the nation’s first Shariah-compliant airline, for issuing hand-written passes on airline-branded slips of paper.
The tax-exempt ones
Boarding passes the nation over were swept up in controversy in 2015 when it became clear that the reason passengers were asked to show their documents to shops when making purchases was so that the businesses could claim back the duty-free VAT - rather than passing it onto the customer. A riot ensued, and now a number of shops have pledged to pass the savings back to the people.