What you need to know about that SSSS stamp on your boarding pass

SSSS! Behold the four letters that you don’t ever want to see on your boarding pass. If you find the Secondary Security Screening Selection — SSSS stamp on your ticket, you should know that the TSA agents will be treating you to an extra-special and in-depth security screening.

Lucky you!

But how, and by whom, are passengers selected for this additional form of screening? After Jo Freeman’s recent unpleasant close encounter of the TSA kind, she wants to know.

The DOT has fined fewer airlines this year. Should you be worried?

If it seems as if airlines are getting away with more passenger-unfriendly behavior, maybe it’s because they are.

The Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the Department of Transportation (DOT), which is responsible for enforcing federal consumer-protection regulations, is on track to punish significantly fewer airlines this year, issuing 18 consent orders for $3.1 million in civil penalties. By comparison, the DOT had 29 orders worth $6.4 million for 2016, which included a $1.6 million fine against American Airlines for violating its tarmac delay rules handed down in mid-December. Barring a last-minute flurry of penalties, 2017 will be a much quieter year for the department.

What did federal agencies do for travelers in 2013?

Oleksly Mark/Shutterstock
Oleksly Mark/Shutterstock
Ask travelers what the federal government did for them this year, and you’ll probably get a shrug, at best — or a rant about sequestration, national park closings and the Transportation Security Administration, at worst.

But there’s actually a specific answer: Federal agencies did a lot more than you might think. And, in at least one prominent case, a lot less.

When it comes to consumer protections, two agencies carried much of the water in 2013: the Department of Transportation (DOT), which oversees airlines and motorcoach safety in the United States, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has a broad jurisdiction ranging from time-share sales to hotels. This year, the U.S. Department of Justice also played a central role in protecting travelers with a halfhearted attempt to block the creation of the nation’s largest airline.

Are lax rules slowing down airline ticket refunds?

Kathleen and Eugene Bianucci paid $5,770 for a pair of round-trip tickets between San Francisco and Dublin this year on Virgin Atlantic Airways. A few days before their trip, Kathleen, a fitness instructor from San Bruno, Calif., broke her leg and had to be hospitalized for a week. Her doctor grounded her for six months, and when she told the airline about the accident, a representative promised her a full refund.

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