What does SSSS mean on my boarding pass? And why this probably started after you went to Turkey.

Post originally Published September 10, 2015 || Last Updated April 10, 2020

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The 'SSSS bug' keeps spreading to travelers that use Global Entry and have been to Turkey. Yesterday I tried to check-in online for my flight to Seattle and the boarding pass would not print.

You are checked-in, but we are unable to provide any boarding passes for your itinerary via united.com.

Today at the airport I got this:

SEE the big SSSS with the circles - that is the Secondary Security Screening Selection.

This means the airline, the TSA or Homeland or all together have identified you as a major security risk! This can be triggered by all sorts of things and usually only happens for ONE flight. But the latest incarnation is that travelers to Turkey that are male and under 50 and have Global Entry get SSSS for months.

Clearly there is an algorithm at work related to the indeed troubling 'IS tourism' along the border with Syria.

However Turkey is a huge country with 31.5 million tourists every year hitting the towns and beaches. It's a NATO member and fights IS as much as any neighboring country (if not more). It shares a long border with Syria (and hosts millions of Syrian refugees). Assuming that every traveler (and I flew with my two children!) is a ISIS fighter and make their flying life hard for months is just ridiculous.

I spent July 2015 in Turkey - seeing Istanbul, Izmir, Ephesus and had a blast around Bodrum before leaving for the Greek Island of Kos. I'm signed up with The Global Entry GOES system and have been using it for more than a year.

When I came back from my trip last week with Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong I was greeted by a Global Entry Kiosk that wouldn't do much but send me to Passport Control. After that I was set to 'Secondary' to 'answer some questions'.

The officer was very polite and asked me about my trip and what I did. I answered truthfully and found the whole experience a bit Over-the-top but not bad. 15 minutes later he had finished all the paperwork and I was on my way.

But after reading Brian's experience and Flyertalkers I knew that SSSS was coming for me too. San Francisco Airport (I always use the International Terminal) even for Domestic United itineraries was deserted.

The TSA lead supervisor picked me up at the TSA checkpoint and took my ID and boarding pass. I went through the body scanner and bag screening as usual. After that one agent searched through all my bag items (and did check fro bomb making traces) and I got a very tight pat down.

The whole procedure took like 15 minutes - it wasn't horrible and the agents professional and somewhat polite. It was certainly better than my 'Secondary Screening' that turned into an interrogation at Tel Aviv airport this February.

I understand that Homeland relies on algorithms (yes Palantir likely wrote it for them) to sift through the risk terrorists pose. But to put almost everyone on a no-fly list that has Global Entry and goes to Turkey on vacation (yes even teenagers) is too much! Someone needs to enable a fix to those obviously low risk people (I consider myself very low risk!).
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