More TSA SSSSilliness

By now everyone — including the bad guys — know that being designated as a “selectee” for further screening is almost always a totally random thing. The airline draws your name from the passenger list and generates a boarding pass with “SSSS” written across it. It’s your lucky day!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think the TSA has done a fine job lately, considering that it has had to do more (like rid the world of dangerous liquids and gels) with less (a pared-down workforce). But the system that selects these passengers appears to have a loophole that one reader of this site, and yours truly, has used a time or two.

Here’s how it worked for my reader, to whom I offer anonymity lest he face what he calls “the double-anal probe” before his next flight.

“I had printed out my boarding passes yesterday morning, so of course, no gate was assigned,” he wrote. The boarding pass for the first leg had the dreaded “SSSS” on it. The other one didn’t.

“I simply switched the pieces of paper,” at the screening area, he says.

An agent smiled and waved him through the magnetometer.

This has happened to me as well. I had a boarding pass with an “SSSS” and another one that didn’t, and I chose not to show the incriminating sheet of paper to my agent. She didn’t know any better.

You would expect the folks designating selectees — my understanding is that it’s the airlines — to be consistent and that once you’re tagged, you’re tagged. But I guess that’s not the way it works.

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So until they figure this one out, use the boarding pass without the “SSSS” on it and avoid the once-over from your friendly TSA agent.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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