TPG Readers Share Their Experiences with TSA’s SSSScarlet Letter
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I’ve found myself in quite the predicament following my recent trip to Istanbul. After returning back home to the US and taking a week off from travel, I was back on the road — this time taking a short flight between New York and Nantucket. I was expecting an uneventful trip, but something unexpected happened. My boarding pass on this flight — as well as those on all my flights since — was marked with an “SSSS,” indicating that I’d have to deal with extra screening from the TSA as I go through security. And things got really interesting just before my most recent flight.
You can read the full extent of the situation in my SSSScarlet Letter post I wrote shortly after my initial frustrations, and since that post was published I’ve gotten a TON of feedback from TPG readers who have experienced similar situations related to Turkey and the SSSS flag. Below you can read some of my favorite messages, plus a note from a TSA representative that reached out to me.
TPG reader Raymond:
I went [to Turkey] last year and was on the watchlist. Flew from NYC to Istanbul, Antalya, Kas, then back to Istanbul on our way to NYC. Afterwards, [on] every flight we took for about 6 months, we had the SSSS on the bottom of our boarding pass.
TPG reader Kimberly:
Just wanted to share my experience of getting SSSS after visiting Turkey. I had flown on two one-way awards. One was into Turkey and coming home I flew from Berlin. I have read that flying one-way can trigger the SSSS. I received SSSS on my boarding pass leaving Berlin, as I would have a connection at [Chicago-ORD]. I was traveling with two other people and they did not receive it. My experience is that it fell off after a couple of flights. Nothing really prepares you for the first time. The thing that sucks about having it is that you won’t be able to check in online. And checking your bag will make things a lot easier. The last time I had it was in [Seattle-SEA], and I had become an expert on what would happen and packed well. My trip to Turkey was in Feb. of this year, and whenever I mentioned that trip to the TSA as to why I thought I was getting it, they were like, “yeah that’ll trigger it.” I’d go back to Turkey in a heartbeat. It was just a small inconvenience in the grand scheme of things.
TPG reader Shiraz:
Hey Brian, my wife and I were in Istanbul at roughly the same time you were. After we got back to Chicago (home), we were set to fly from [Chicago-ORD]-[New York-LGA]. Little did we know what we had coming at ORD. They took both of us from the security line once the agent saw the SSSS, and swabbed literally everything we owned. Made me turn on every electronic device (DSLR, laptop, iPod, iPhone), and even made me take out the Nikon lenses and rotate them multiple times. They swabbed all that and gave us a thorough patting despite going through the X-Ray. The TSA agent even checked the top portion on the inner side of my pants! My wife had a flight the very next day from LGA to Cancun and again she had the SSSS on her boarding pass. The TSA agent asked where she traveled recently and when she replied Turkey, the agent was pretty blunt and said it’s happening to almost everyone traveling to Turkey since it’s become a gateway for people to join ISIS.
TPG reader Shawn:
Same experience here. 3 days in Turkey this March as a layover on the way to Madives was rewarded with “Quad S” on all domestic flights for the next 4 months for both me and my spouse. Eventually it went away as the FlyerTalk posts said it would. I have to admit that several times the Quad S saved me time as I would see I was Quad S, go to the agent that was at the start of the security line, tell him I was Quad S and ask for a TSA supervisor (you will be getting one anyways). The supervisor would always let me skip to the front of the line (because you have to be escorted as Quad S), but then I had the detailed inspection. You always know when you are Quad S because it will not let you print boarding passes at home…. [the website] gives an error message and says you have to print at the airport. 4 months and it will go away. Last tip is always make sure that TSA has done the special Quad S punch on your boarding pass that shows you were cleared by TSA before you leave the security area…. Boarding agents will not let you board without the TSA punch.
TPG reader Carey:
This is the exact scenario that I went through last year. I did a big trip through Europe last August that included two nights at Park Hyatt Istanbul (Thanks for the recommendation of the Spa room BTW. Loved it). Upon my return I began noticing that I couldn’t check in to Southwest flights 24 hours ahead of time. Website/app would tell me to check in at gate (which of course put me in the back of C boarding group). I was constantly being pulled out of security lines, patted down, bags emptied, etc. I even was denied boarding at the actual gate after passing through all of the security. I see that a number of comments are saying Redress is useless. I would disagree, once I signed up for one and began utilizing it on my reservations, the SSSS stopped. I also recently received GOES and now am in the habit of entering my GOES and Redress number on each [reservation].
TSA Media Representative:
Brian, I saw that you received a SSSS designation on your boarding pass. Sorry to hear about your troubles. I’m emailing you because I want to make sure you are pointed in the right direction in trying to resolve your issue. The main thing to understand is that TSA does not nominate individuals to the watch lists. Names are placed on to the watch lists by the Intelligence Community. The FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center is the entity that maintains the watch lists and TSA is one of the end-users. Therefore, the TSA Officers that you encountered at PVC and BOS were merely doing their jobs when they saw the SSSS designation on your boarding pass. I also am not privy to why your name may have been added to a watch list but I am happy to try to help you. You should certainly contact the Department of Homeland Security (DHS.gov/Trip) or the FBI’s TSC if you haven’t already. Hopefully you can get this resolved soon.
Ultimately, I’m still having issues with security. It’s unclear if this will be resolved soon, but it seems that travelers in my situation have waited months before losing their SSSS status. I’ve applied for a redress number in an attempt to mend the situation, but I’ve also heard that might not be an effective solution. Meanwhile, I just had my fourth SSSS of the week in advance of my flight home. Check out my review of the TSA massage!
If you’ve had similar issues with airport security, please chime in below!