Getting Rid of the “SSSS”

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“SSSS”

As previously noted, when checking into the Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt the boarding passes that were printed upon our flight from Vienna to Frankfurt were requested to “be held” and was informed that the boarding passes would be returned prior to take-off.

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Lufthansa Ticket Jacket

I believe the real reason prior boarding passes are requested is so that new boarding passes could be printed on Lufthansa stock, and presented in the Lufthansa First Class jacket.

This is something that is coveted by many aviation geeks, me included.

When we were given our tickets in Vienna, I was very surprised that the ticket from Frankfurt to Washington, DC did not have the dreaded “SSSS” (Secondary Security Screening Selection) printed on it, as I was expecting it to show since we had stayed in Istanbul.

When the new tickets were presented in the Lufthansa First Class jacket, I had to take a look, and lo and behold in the right hand corner was the infamous “SSSS” was printed. My heart sank a bit, knowing that for the next three years I would have to undergo further security measures despite having Global Entry.

Strangely, my wife also had the “SSSS” designation on her boarding pass. From what I have read, the “SSSS” mainly appears on boarding passes of males under 50, and have been to Turkey. Another oddity appears to be that having Global Entry may also trigger this. However, I have Global Entry while my wife does not, so I don’t know how much credibility this line of thinking has.

Once we landed in Washington, DC we collected our luggage as this was our first point of entry in the United States. We had to go through security again, and I figured this was where the secondary screening would take place. We were cleared through security without incident, and I was thinking, “Hey, this “SSSS” isn’t as bad as I thought.”

We headed to the lounge for a few minutes before moving forward to the gate. Since we got to the gate very early, we started talking to the gate agent who was very friendly. We inquired about seeing if there were any earlier flights back to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, both of the Lufthansa direct flights from Frankfurt to Los Angeles were not available using miles. She then noted that we had been designated with the “SSSS” mark and that we would have to go through the secondary screening there at the gate. She called TSA as they apparently have a team that does the secondary screening at Dulles. She could not get in touch with anyone, and kept calling every few minutes.

When she was finally able to speak to someone she informed them that we had been selected for secondary screening. She then told us that there was only one team in the entire airport that could do this and they were in another terminal performing a secondary screening on other passengers. Time seemed to begin to tick by faster with each passing moment, as the gate was becoming more crowded with passengers.

The gate agent continued to keep in touch with TSA to let them know that they were going to begin boarding soon, and that the team still had not arrived to perform the secondary screening. She informed us that we would not be allowed to board until we had been cleared, and our boarding passes signed off.

Each passing minute seemed to rush by in seconds. I was getting the feeling that we were going to miss our flight home, as boarding was almost complete and they were ready to shut the doors. My wife had mistakenly packed some medication that she needed to take in a timely manner which would be a problem if we didn’t get screened and placed onto the next flight.

Since it looked like we were going to miss our flight, we asked the gate agent about booking us on the next flight which was scheduled to leave about 1 ½ hours after our original flight. When checking, she noted that there were two business class seats left, but when she went to lock us into the seats one of the seats had been booked. We asked when the next with two available business class seats would be available since we had been booked in business class from Dulles to LAX. She said the following day, which wouldn’t work because of the medication issue.

We decided that getting home to get the medication was obviously more important than flying in business class, so we were booked on the next flight home. The gate agent said that she was going to get us compensated for not being able to fly in the class of our original seats. Of course nothing ever came of that, as I would be very surprised if United actually cared about their customers.

Once our original flight had taken off, about ten minutes later the TSA team came. Now why TSA only has one team to perform these screenings in an airport as big as Dulles is beyond my comprehension. Not only that, but there were four people on this team which seemed like overkill.

We were patted down, fingerprinted and our luggage checked. The TSA agents were actually nice, and we explained to one of them why we believed we had been flagged for the secondary security in the first place.

He informed us that he had heard that if we “appealed” the “SSSS” designation there was a good chance that we would be taken off the “SSSS” list if everything checked out. He advised to go to the Department of Homeland Security website for additional details.

Upon hearing this, I figured fat chance that this would ever get overturned and I would just have to deal with this major inconvenience over the next few years, and anticipated many missed flights based on this experience. I thought I had nothing to lose by appealing, and everything to gain.

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DHS TRIP
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DHS Trip
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DHS TRIP

(For some odd reason, these pictures were automatically partially blacked out, even though screen shots were perfectly normal.  I am not expert enough to explain this phenomenon).

 

When I got back home, and settled in after a few days I went to the Transportation Security Administration website and read through the steps that I would go through, and submitted my application to DHS Trip. At that time, I was supplied with a Redress number, and was informed to use that number with any correspondence, or if booking airline tickets.

I got an immediate form letter back via email indicating that my application had been received and that it could take up to 50 days before a decision was made. I didn’t think that a resolution would come very quickly, and sort of forgot about it after a couple of weeks.

I received a letter from TSA about 4-5 weeks later, which was kind of confusing. On the surface, it sounded like my appeal had been ruled in my favor, but then there was language that said that I could still be flagged for secondary security checks.

At that point, I thought I had gone through all of that trouble for nothing. I didn’t have a scheduled flight for a while so I did not know what would happen on my next flight.

The next time I did travel, it happened to be with United again. I tried to check-in using the app on my phone, but was unable to do so without scanning my passport into the app. At that point, I was able to check-in. When I arrived at the airport the following day, I figure I would still get pegged for a secondary screening, but I was able to use Pre-Check and had no issues with any further security checks.

If you do happen to get flagged with the “SSSS” on your boarding pass for any reason, I believe it is worth your time and effort to submit an application to DHS trip on the TSA site.

A few minutes of your time, may save you a few years of agony and secondary screenings.

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