My second flight with the SSSS label happened today with Alaska Airlines. No online check-in for me – I knew that already. At the airport the agent would give me a boarding pass with a big SSSS – but no seat. In fact the Alaska system puts all passengers with an SSSS on the standby list irrespective if they have a confirmed reservation or not. I triple-checked with the agent but she confirms that is was the system does automatically. There was no way to override it for her and all I could do was to get off the standby list at the gate.
In my last flight with SSSS United had no trouble giving me a boarding pass and a confirmed seat. However Alaska assumes that an SSSS labeled passengers is too unlikely to make it through security in time so my confirmed reservation (I used 7,500 Avios for the Alaska flight) went up in smoke!
At the security checkpoint I told the agent my story (we were both waiting for a supervisor to show up) and he surprisingly sided with me and called Homeland a ”#$#’. The – even more friendly – supervisor picked me up and we flew together the beginning of the line. After the body scanner and luggage X-ray the bomb detection started for my luggage which was very long this time. It took 20 minutes for all the unpacking and testing. My ‘full body massage’ took just a few minutes and was done in a very polite way – I can’t complain at all.
All in all it took 30 minutes and wasn’t a bad experience – there was another person with a secondary screening at the same time as I was in the area. After switching on my camera and laptop I was allowed to go to my gate. No gate agent there yet and the grumpy customer service agent sent me off to wait. Of course the agent would later board the flight – so much for a bit of customer service.
Luckily this early morning today flight wasn’t full at all, but I wonder what would have happened on a crowded mid-week flight? Alaska reassigned me from a confirmed seat to the middle of the standby list. If my seat would have been gone I would gotten an IDB voucher? I presented myself to the airline at the time of departure and checked-in at the right time. I also cleared security in-time.
My anecdotal evidence so far shows that people signed up for Global Entry have a much higher chance of being selected for that kind of government harassment than non-GOES users. We all suspected that GOES will be used for government spying (Hell it’s an easy way to get someone’s fingerprints in the system in the first place) but that it also became a tool for government harassment wasn’t something I expected.
The continued SSSS screening for perfectly safe travelers (and long-time GOES users) is a waste of government resources. It’s used much too widely and people end up being on the SSSS ‘selectee list’ forever. This needs to stop!
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About the author: Torsten is a serial entrepreneur who started almost a dozen ventures on four continents. Torsten's love for travel has brought him to 130+ countries and travel with most of the world's airlines. You can reach Torsten at [email protected]