The Boarding Pass Code That Could Spell Trouble For You

With over 32 million people signed up for TSA Precheck and likely tens of thousands of articles written about how to pass through security more swiftly without having anything confiscated, it's no secret that people want to avoid problems with airport security. However, sometimes it can be entirely out of your hands.

When you go to check-in and you receive your boarding pass, you might find a four-letter code printed on the bottom of your ticket. This code is "SSSS" or "secondary security screening selection." This is a code that the TSA uses to indicate that you are the (un)lucky winner of a secondary screening — also called an enhanced screening — when you go through security.

Essentially, you will be pulled aside to go through an additional inspection. This could be a complete inspection of your bags, passing through additional metal detectors, and even having a full body pat down. But why does this happen, and what should you do if it happens to you frequently? We have all the answers and more.

Why you're selected and what to do when it happens

Sometimes you'll be informed you've been selected for an enhanced screening when you check in online. If this happens, you won't be able to print your ticket at home, and you'll be directed to go to the airport check-in desk. This doesn't mean you're in trouble and, in most cases, you're not on any kind of watch list. So don't freak out if this happens to you.

Typically when you've been randomly selected, you'll just have to endure a bit more invasive security procedure. According to the TSA, passengers are selected for this enhanced screening via their Security Flight System, which prescreens passengers before arriving at the airport. This system then sorts passengers into low and high-risk categories.

Things that can land you on this list? Purchasing a plane ticket at the last minute. Especially for a flight that's one-way and very pricey. Additionally, while it's uncommon to see anyone doing this, paying for a flight in cash is a red flag.

If you notice you've been selected for secondary screening, be sure to arrive at the airport a bit earlier. You never know how much additional time it might take to go through this enhanced screening. Though it should go without saying that when this happens, you should be extra careful not to accidentally pack any contraband items.

If this happens to you often, here's what to do

Let's say this happens to you once. And then the next time you go to the airport, it happens again. While the selection process should be random, and it is possible you could get selected randomly twice, it's more likely that you've been flagged in the system for one reason or another.

The exact details of why a traveler might get selected for SSSS are deliberately kept under wraps so that criminals or potential criminals don't change their behavior. However, it's likely due to your name matching the name of a person on the TSA watchlist or you frequently travel to and from certain countries. 

Assuming you're not a criminal and want to get off the TSA's watch list, you'll have to apply for a redress number. This government-issued identification number lets TSA know you are not a person of interest or unrelated to the person on their watch list with the same name.

Thankfully, applying for a redress number is fairly easy, and you won't need to jump through any unnecessary hoops to get it. Just be aware that there's no exact timeline for when your redress number will be approved. However, when it is, you can enter that redress number when booking your trips, and TSA will know to disregard your name when selecting passengers for SSSS.