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The SSSSaga is Finally Over!

Oct. 26, 2015
5 min read
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The SSSSaga is Finally Over!
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You may already know that since my vacation to Turkey earlier this year, I've been struggling with a dreaded SSSS classification, which has marked me for enhanced airport security screening every time I travel domestically.

SSSS stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection, and it means that I not only haven't been able to check in to my flights prior to arriving at the airport, but once I finally am checked in, I have the pleasure of getting a thorough TSA inspection that a includes a pat-down and a full swab of all my possessions. Since my SSSSaga began, I've literally wasted hours of my life — and in airports, no less.

Following my trip to Turkey, I (and all of my travel companions) began getting SSSS-flagged for all of our flights. After doing a bit of research, talking with some TPG readers online, and even getting in touch with the TSA, it seems that the SSSS is a nuisance for many travelers who have recently visited Turkey. That said, traveling to Turkey isn't guaranteed to earn you the SSSS tag, and certainly shouldn't deter you from visiting.

Even as a very frequent, PreCheck- and Global Entry-holding traveler, I was still being flagged repeatedly. I took some advice from readers and took the following steps in hopes of getting off the list quickly:

  1. First, I applied for a Redress Number.
  2. I contacted my senator's office in an attempt to get myself off the list.
  3. The senator's office told me to file a FOIA request so they could get more info about my case, but that required lots of paperwork I didn't want to deal with.

Ultimately, all of the above was a waste of time. I heard from unofficial sources that after appearing on a certain number of flights/boarding passes, the SSSS tends to go away completely. And that's what eventually happened to me.

Here's a timeline of what it took for me to finally lose it:

8/19 — Milan to New York — Received SSSS, but no enhanced screening
8/26 — New York to Nantucket – SSSS with enhanced screening
8/31 — Provincetown, Massachusetts to Boston — SSSS with enhanced screening
8/31 —Boston to Austin – SSSS with enhanced screening
9/2 — Submitted materials for Redress Number
9/2 — Austin to New York – SSSS with enhanced screening
9/4 — Received confirmation for Redress Number
9/8 — Contacted my senator's office
9/22 — Received paperwork with redress number (paperwork dated 9/11)
9/24 — New York to Accra — No SSSS
10/6 — Cape Town to New York (via Doha) — SSSS, but no enhanced screening in Doha and my Global Entry worked fine upon returning
10/11 — New York to Jacksonville — No SSSS
10/11 — Jacksonville to New York — No SSSS

I was so excited to rid myself of SSSS.
I was so excited to rid myself of SSSS, I jumped for joy.

On my flight from New York to Accra, Ghana — and at long last — I was finally freed from the SSSS. I was so ecstatic that I could return to normalcy, I literally jumped for joy! Unfortunately, I wasn't so lucky on my next flight returning to the US ... even with the Redress Number. After this brief relapse, though, it seems that I'm finally, really and truly free from the SSSS.

To see if my SSSS mark was really gone for good, though, I conducted an experiment, booking two short flights originating in New York — one to Miami on Delta, and the second to Nashville on American. I didn't input my Redress Number on either reservation, and I approached the flight as I normally would have before I took my trip to Turkey. Ultimately, I was able to check in online with no issue and then canceled the tickets.

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My SSSS was back again.
My SSSS mark on a recent flight.

In all, I've flown 11 times since returning from Turkey — and six boarding passes have had the SSSS mark. While it seems that I'm finally done with this situation for good, my friends and travel companions aren't quite as lucky; two of the four of us are still dealing with SSSS (they're frequent flyers like myself) and can only remain hopeful of shedding it on the next trip.

Throughout this entire process, TPG Readers have been sharing their own accounts of dealing with the SSSS, a flag that seems to come as randomly as it goes. One reader shared this info:

In late September 2015, we flew to Italy via a 23-hour stopover in Istanbul, Turkey. We purchased entry visas for Turkey, left Ataturk airport, toured the city, stayed overnight in a hotel and returned to the airport the next day to continue on to Europe. Neither my husband nor I received the SSSS on our subsequent domestic flights, about a week after our return in October. SSSS is not universally applied to all entrants to Turkey. We are a white, married couple in our middle 50s — but they aren't supposed to profile, so that shouldn't matter.
-TPG Reader Beth K.

Another reader shared this tweet:

The exact details of the SSSS still remain a mystery to me. I'm not sure if my losing the SSSS is a result of chance, patience or my very public persistence in trying to get off the list, but for now I can only recommend taking the steps that I did to finally rid yourself of the SSSScarlet letter.

If you're stuck with your own SSSScarlet letter, be sure to check out our 10 tips for coping with extra security.
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