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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Dreaded SSSS

Just an anecdote about security, or lack of it, on my recent transatlantic flight - no tech commentary this post.


Those of you who pay attention to air travel security issues may have heard of 'SSSS' which is an acronym for Secondary Security Screening Selection - basically a higher level of security screening. On my recent return flight from London to Seattle, I was 'lucky' enough to get this on my boarding pass - it's literally marked SSSS as you can see above. Apparently it's when you do something suspicious such as buy a one-way ticket or pay in cash for your flight, neither of which applied here. There's also been complaints it's racially/ethnically biased, however I'm as white as you get, and also have gone through the additional checks to get Global Entry and Nexus, so it's likely just random in my case (we'll see next time I fly).

So what did this mean for the flight? Well there was absolutely no difference at the regular security checkpoint at Heathrow, but I went to the gate a few minutes earlier than normal and spoke to the security people there. They thanked me for coming a few minutes early rather than waiting for boarding, and took me to a small area behind the check-in desk. After checking my passport, the agent had me take all electronics out of my carry-on (2 phones, a laptop, a USB hard drive). They checked one of the phones turned on, then swabbed down the electronics and all compartments of my carry-on, before putting it in the machines for explosives residue test. After that came up clear, they stamped my boarding pass, and told me to make sure I handed it to a gate agent at boarding rather than try to use the automated gates they have at Heathrow. I packed up, it had taken 3 or 4 minutes, and they were very polite and professional. At boarding, I handed my stamped pass to a gate agent who also thanked me for not trying to go through the automated gates, and it took a few extra seconds to check me through manually, and after that boarding was normal.

Where it got annoying was at my connection in the US, which was at Chicago O'Hare. As I had to change terminals to a domestic flight, I had to go through security again, and unlike normal, I now didn't have TSA-Pre on my boarding pass, which is the faster and less invasive security line - I tried to reprint my boarding pass in case it would be added when in the US, but no such luck, and I had to join the regular line. Wow, I had forgotten how bad that is. Long, slow, and full of people who don't travel enough to know what to do, along with everything having to come out the bag, and shoes and belts off. Recipe for disaster. I had 90 minutes to make my flight, and I got out of security at about the time boarding was supposed to close. 

I made it to the gate just as regular boarding ended and they were about to call standby, so pretty close to losing my seat. And here was where the most ridiculous thing happened. The guy in front of me tried to board, and his boarding pass kept getting rejected. After a minute of trying the gate agent looked at it and said "Sir, this is a boarding pass for yesterday's flight", and the passenger looked at him with a straight face and just said "I missed that one so I want to take this one", and credit to the gate agent he just said "That's not how it works Sir" and led him over to the main checking desk. After that, I boarded normally and no hassle.

So, overall it really was not a major setback or exceptionally invasive, just frustrating I didn't get to use TSAPre, but after all that security let a man with a day old boarding pass through security all the way to the gate. Yay. I feel so much safer...

Update 24th Feb 2019: No issues next time I flew, seems to have been a one off after all.

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