“SSSS”. The mark of the beast.

Ever wonder why sometimes, airport security personnel (TSA) ask you for your boarding pass immediately after you pass through the metal detector, considering that you just showed your pass to a TSA agent right before you got to the detector lines? Furthermore, do you ever wonder why some people get comprehensive searches and others don’t? Well today I got a tough lesson in security and airport incompetence which has caused me to finally give up and cancel my trip to Austin for SXSW.

First, some quick background.

Tom Watson, Jeff Croft, Ben Tesch, and I were supposed to fly to Austin via Dallas yesterday. I had instant status alerts set up through one of my new favorite sites and made sure everything was A-OK before leaving for the airport. After checking into my flight and waiting near the gate, however, the entire thing got cancelled due to snow in Dallas.

American Airlines couldn’t get me on any other flights that day so they put me on an Alaska flight through San Jose for the following day (today). Fair enough. Weather shit happens. I get that.

Here is where it starts to get absurd though.

So, Tom, Ben, and I show up today a full 90 minutes before our flight, we check in, we go through security, and then at 12:50pm, five minutes after boarding has begun, we try to board. The person at the gate scans my ticket and says:

“Sorry sir. You need to go back through security. You need to get back on the train to the main terminal and tap a TSA agent on the shoulder and show them your boarding pass.”

I say:

“What??? Why? My friends too?”

She says:

“Yes, so sorry. Hurry.”

So we motor back to security and the clearly embarrassed TSA guy we grab runs all of our bags back through the x-ray machine, gives us the full wand treatment (no body cavity treatment, thank god), and eventually stamps us all with a special green stamp and says we’re good to go.

We motor back to the gate, and even though it’s 10 minutes before takeoff, Alaska Airlines has decided to close their doors to the airplane and we have now missed our flight, with no other alternative flights on the horizon.

As we’ll see in a moment, this entire episode wasn’t exactly Alaska’s fault, but I find it disappointing that they couldn’t have accommodated this situation, knowing they had just told us to motor down to security really quick.


On our way back to ticketing, I decided to stop by the security area again and pepper the TSA guy with questions about what just happened and who’s fault it was. Here is what I found out:

1. We had special “SSSS” designations on our boarding passes. Whenever you have an “SSSS” in the corner of your boarding pass (you’ll see this as soon as the pass is printed), it means you’ll have to go through extra security with the wand treatment and full bag search. I did a Google search for “SSSS” before posting this entry to make sure I’m not giving terrorists any secret information, but it’s apparently already been publicized.

2. Whenever a flight of yours gets canceled and they put you on another airline, you will get the SSSS designation on your new boarding pass. Be prepared for extra security when this happens.

3. What caused this particular problem is that the TSA agent who checked our IDs and boarding passes before we got to security missed the SSSS lettering (for all three of us) and therefore neglected to tell us to go to the special line to get the full treatment and the special stamp.

My assumption is that the reason they sometimes check your stuff again as you go through the detector is for this very circumstance. It’s a quick doublecheck in case the first guy is too lazy to notice the SSSS. Unfortunately for us this fine Friday, the first guy screwed up, there was nobody there to cover his ass, and therefore — very avoidably this time — our flight was effectively cancelled for us.

So having had my plans foiled for two days now, I’m bailing on Austin. Jeff, Ben, and Tom are all taking various redeyes so they’ll be there, but I’m an old man so I’m giving up. If you’re there, please have some sort of shot for me (Jager is preferred). Please tag all shot photos “shots-for-miked”. I appreciate it.

There are actually two more hours in the airport to this story, but I’ll condense the details into just one more paragraph:

Number one, my bags are still on their way to Austin. Number two, as I was trying to get my ticket refunded, both American Airlines and Alaska Airlines insisted that I was already on the plane. About ten agent-to-agent phone calls were made, and ten times, I heard the phrase “He’s standing right here in front of me” (ostensibly in response to the question “How do you *know* he’s not on the plane?”). Once Alaska was convinced I was indeed not already in transit and that a flight attendant had messed up the headcount before takeoff, the wheels were put in motion to turn the plane around and land it back at SeaTac. Apparently they have to do this whenever an inaccurate headcount is uncovered. I pleaded with them that it was just me and that they shouldn’t screw over an entire airborne plane full of passengers for this, and in the end they didn’t. An hour after that, I got my ticket refunded and I’m back at home.

Somebody just doesn’t want me to get to Austin this year… and I’m actually perfectly okay with that.

63 comments on “SSSS Equals No SXSW”. Leave your own?
  1. David says:

    I don’t get why the SSSS treatment if your flight is cancelled though. Why does that raise a flag? It’s not like YOU did anything untoward.

  2. Carl says:

    Just another example of the absurdity that is the TSA.

  3. Beau says:

    I used to work for an airline at SeaTac. There were various rules applied to a purchased ticket that would determine wether or not you got the SSSS. These rules considered things like how the ticket was purchased (cash, credit card etc.) as well as the itinerary (one way/round trip).

    If you buy a one way ticket with cash it’s a guaranteed trip to SSSS land.

    You probably got SSSS’d because your itinerary was changed to a one way ticket and since you purchased an AA ticket Alaska system didn’t have a traceable method of payment and your new ticket on Alaska was one-way.

  4. Mike D. says:

    Great information, Beau. Thanks. And it probably answers Dave’s question (which I was also wondering about).

  5. Mike P says:

    Wow. The rest of the world laughs at your ridiculous country, Mike.

  6. naomi says:

    So, are your bags headed to Austin because of the incorrect headcount? I thought they automatically have to retrieve your bags if you don’t make the flight. Which makes me wonder, how could they think you were on the plane if they never swiped your boarding pass at the gate?

  7. Eric Meyer says:

    Man, Mike, that sucks, especially after you tried so hard.

    Interesting that they’d violate the policy to bring a plane back after an incorrect headcount, not to mention after discovering they put unaccompanied baggage on a plane, based solely on your asking them not to do so.

  8. Mike D. says:

    Naomi and Eric: Yes, apparently the old policy of always making sure passengers got on the plane if they put luggage on it is no longer a rule. I actually asked about this. And yes, it seems weird to turn a plane around based on a missing passenger and not so much a bag without a passenger. Very strange indeed.

  9. Jack says:

    Wow, that really sucks. Good on you Mike for making sure they didn’t screw over an entire plane of other passengers. That sounds like the most inefficient and ass-covering solution to the problem of a bad headcount.

  10. Jakob Heuser says:

    @Mike I don’t think it’s the missing person they’d be worried about- more that there’s someone on the plane who shouldn’t have been. I wonder how often they miscount.

  11. Dave S. says:

    I’ve been SSSS’d a few times, but contrary to popular sentiment, I’m actually okay with it. Bruce Schneier (google him, if I spelled it right) says these random extra security checks are one of the very few things the TSA did post-911 that actually DOES improve airline security. Though in your case clearly the system fell down…

    I’ll try and get a few Jager bombs (shudder) in on your behalf and tag them appropriately.

  12. Patrick Shaw says:

    Mike – rats – SXSW has always sounded like fun. I traveled recently with a guitar, a hammered dulcimer and a mandolin – and TSA confiscate my 9mm allen wrench (for adjusting my guitar neck) but let me carry on the tuning wrench for the dulcimer (a weighty allen wrench with a convenient handle) along with a very skinny 10mm high e string with which I could likely have garroted someone. Go figure!

  13. Mike D. says:

    Jakob: Yeah, that’s what I would think too. But I also specifically asked them that. I said “You’ll turn a plane around even if it’s just one passenger *missing* instead of having an extra passenger? I would think extra passengers would be a lot more of a concern.” They said “Yep, any discrepancy and we’ll turn it around.” Furthermore, the example they gave me of why they do this was so weird I don’t even want to print it.

    Dave: Yep, I’m perfectly ok with the concept of SSSS as well. When it works, it’s just an extra 3 or 4 minutes onto your normal routine. I guess I’m just kind of pissed that *three* of us were missed by this guy (makes me think it wasn’t an oversight and he just wasn’t properly trained… actually, it could also be that he *thought* the second line of defense guys were responsible for checking SSSS’s and they never did). And I’m also pissed that Alaska couldn’t hold the damned flight by 5 frickin’ minutes. I mean shit, they almost had to turn the plane around. Annnnnnnyway… thanks for Jagering for me. You can even do it in the Chili’s Lounge in LAX if you want. :)

    Patrick: Wow.

  14. Hadley says:

    I really don’t see how the SSSS thing is useful – you know you have it _before_ you go through security, so if you’re a reasonably intelligent terrorist, you could simply turn around and try another day. On the other hand, at some airports it actually saves you time, as you can skip the big lines.

  15. Bradley says:

    So sorry to hear of your troubles Mike. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be… dun dun dunnn!

    I got the mark of the beast once, when I missed a return flight on American and they happily switched me to Delta when they could not work out anything sensible ($100 later for missing my flight). Luckily I had enough time before /that/ flight, and security did their job correctly on the first pass.

    The creative director at a company I worked for awhile back told me he gets the SSSS all the time. His last name is Aman. You say it A-Men like the A-Team. He’s totally Caucasian, typical Anglo-Saxon heritage. But the name looks foreign and it must be on a list somehow. He tells it better than I. “Hello, Mr. Haman, please step this way so we can wand you.” Every time.

    Don’t change your flight info at the last minute, kids. And I guess, hope they don’t change it for you due to unforeseen conditions.

    You’re always welcome to party down in Ohio, Mike. Hope you don’t mind the 12 inches of snow on the ground and the 12 coming tomorrow.

  16. Mike D. says:

    Bradley: Thanks. I actually don’t mind the snow at all, but you know what I *do* mind? Your state keeps fucking up elections. How about no more of that, k?


  17. Ouch, that’s quite the ordeal! I never knew they’d turn planes around for that sort of thing! Can you imagine being on that plane? After all the “would mr. so-and-so please board now? This is your last call” notices they give I would be furious if I was notified on the plane that we were turning around because there was a missing passenger. I know now why they walk down the aisles with the clicking counters.

    When I was up at An Event Apart Seattle I won $50 from Mozilla and purchased their Firefox branded laptop bag. Then last year when returning from a trip in Europe I was stopped at security in Beauvais, France (I think it was the France leg). I carry an (empty until through security) 32oz Nalgene water bottle with me everywhere I go. Nalgenes are, or were, like bumpers, random stickers and labels covering the surface. At one point a label from an office chair had found it’s way onto my bottle stating that “This article meets the flammability requirements of Section… of the State of California” Or something to that affect. Combine that with a Firefox bag and you get trouble at security. “Who do you work for? What’s Firefox? What’s in the bottle?” I was rather shocked. “Uh… that’s a web browser, and the bottle is empty. Yeah, that’s a sticker from an office chair!”
    Nonetheless they chemically tested all my carry on. Good times.

    I travel with a different water bottle now.

  18. Bradley says:

    @Mike: I’ll see what I can do. :)

  19. Doug Bowman says:

    Dude, sucks, sorry to hear. Not that it helps, but a little explanation. My wife, who used to be both a flight attendant and a flight attendant supervisor for a major unnamed airline blames the gate agent for the majority of problems here. Quad S passes inevitably get overlooked every now and then. TSA won’t admit it, but it happens when there’s no automated ticket scanner at security (instead relying on human eyesight to catch the four little Ss. That’s the reason for a final check at the gate. Gate ticket scanners can scan for the SSSS flag, and beep to indicate they need to be checked for the “all clear” stamp.

    Once the gate agent realized you needed secondary screening, she could have taken several actions that would have increased your chances of making that flight. 1) Call security and request that a security agent come to the gate to do the screening there (especially if there were 3 of you that needed it) 2) Knowing she sent the 3 of you to back to security, and that you *would* be hurrying to try to make it back to catch the flight, she could have informed the crew and possibly held the doors for at least 5 more minutes. It’s shitty, but airlines don’t wait for passengers anymore — on-time departures are critical to business, and any delays result in gate fines to the airline.

    The inaccurate headcount was most likely not the result of a manual count by any flight attendant. My wife tells me that they rarely ever take physical head counts anymore before departure (or the easier reverse, count empty seats, unless they have an oversold situation with standbys). *If* the gate agent ran your tickets through a scanner, it’s actually the scanner that reported the total head count, assuming all tickets scanned represent physical passengers on board. Once the plane was in flight, and your situation unfolded, that probably prompted a manual count, and the mismatch created an instant problem.

    Anyway, sucks you couldn’t make it, no matter who’s at fault. I’ll pound a pint in your name. (not a Jager fan)

  20. Mike D. says:

    Philip: Oh my god. Glad you ended up making it through. That is good times indeed.

    Doug: Thanks for the info. Please pass my thanks on to your wife for the thorough analysis. I agree, and I never really blamed either airline much (except for Alaska not holding the doors open in light of the sitch), but man, such a disappointment that this can happen. It’s weird too, because right before we tried to board, Tom and I were talking about how we always wondered why people were in such a rush to board. I almost always try to be one of the last boarders because I figure what’s the rush in getting to your seat early when you’re going to be stuck there for hours… but this episode will always make me question whether I am indeed “good to go” up until I am actually *on* the plane.

  21. Tiffehr says:

    Damn, that sucks, Mike. I’m headed for my airport trials in a few hours. Will drink a jager chased by a beer for you as I’m stuck at SeaTac.

  22. I always get SSSS’d in Washington DC for some reason, but nowhere else. They send the SSSS people through these giant machines that shoot puffs of air at you in rapid succession. One time a lady in front of me almost had a panic attack she was so unnerved about the air jets.

    Sucks that you won’t be at SXSW. Seeing as this is my first over-21 year of SXSW, i will be having many Mike D jager shots.

  23. PB says:

    I think I’d rather take my chances with terrorists than to deal with this absurdity. Once insane behavior becomes SOP, no fertile ground for sanity can exist.

  24. Brian Ford says:

    These rules considered things like how the ticket was purchased (cash, credit card etc.) as well as the itinerary (one way/round trip).

    And probably also how many times you’ve pranked a Republican presidential nominee, as well.

  25. Josh Bryant says:

    We miss you down here.

    I was stuck on a plane in Dallas on the tarmac for 7 hours on Thurs! And we didn’t even make the flight, they took us back to the gate.

    The entire traveling part of the trip for most has been a complete disaster. And my luggage (including my clubs) still isn’t here yet.

    We’ll have to hit some links sometime this summer to make up for it.

  26. andrew k says:

    what a bummer man. Vastly more disconcerting is the the power the government and the TSA have given themselves concerning laptops and international flights: The government claims the right to open and review anything they want on your laptop, mobile device, extra hard drive etc… when coming into this country (US Citizen or not) and even more stunning claim the right to seize any electronic device without a warrant or cause – for any amount of time including forever – with no due process or remedy. Its absolutely astonishing – and really bad for this country, as an exec I would eventually say – Screw doing business with the US.

    Check it out:

  27. Benjy says:

    We got the special SSSS treatment when flying to Mexico for vacation in December. Our original flight out of Chicago was cancelled the night before we were to leave, meaning we’d miss our connection in San Deigo. But U.S. Air was able to rebook us on an American flight directly to Puerto Vallarta.

    I first suspected our special status when the check-in kiosks wouldn’t issue our boarding passes. This set off my fiancee, because she feared a repeat of the prior year travelling to PV when United revoked our confirmed seats booked 6 months out (on frequent flyer miles) and had us on standby because they changed to a smaller plane 2 months out — which meant a flight oversold by 20%.

    Anyway, this time it meant we had to stand in the long Saturday-before-christmas lines to check in with an agent. Because my financee and I were travelling on the same flight as my parents and they arrived at the airport first, while we were in line to check in, they called and gave us the heads up to the extra security we’d encounter.

    Amazingly, the guy at security was all apologetic and friendly, explaining what had triggered the SSSS status, what we’d encounter as a result, and was overall pleasent in a way that had me questioning why he worked for TSA.

  28. Wilson Miner says:

    Man, that sucks. I had an idiot moment yesterday when I showed up at SFO and realized I’d left my ID at home (second trip in a row). Which is another way to get the SSSS badge. Last time I made the mistake of asking the airline for help, but they wouldn’t mark me for additional security because it was my originating flight. If I’d been stranded on a return flight they’d have to let me through.

    This time, I just went through the line and told the agent checking boarding passes that I lost my wallet and didn’t have ID. They marked me SSSS and sent me to another line with nobody in it. I went through the fancy air-pressure patdown machine, let them look through my bag and was done. I actually got through security faster than I would have if I’d waited in the regular line.

    Which is all to say two things: 1) if you forget your ID for a flight, you can still get through and 2) it sucks to be you.

  29. Jeff S. says:

    I’ve been through it too. Last minute flights, crazy three-legged designations, one-ways, cash or miles transferred from someone else.

    Has anyone discovered their SSSS designation and pointed it out to TSA? Mike’s experience shows that this insane move might be necessary.

  30. This is crazy…

    Airport security always gives me the full wand treatment and checks my gear for explosives — too many wires, laptop, harddrives and camera ;-)

    Often enough this gets me faster through the checks though.

  31. Zach says:

    Hey Mike,

    Sucks that you ended up missing your flight after all that. I was actually supposed to be leaving Dallas (was there on business) and flying back to Chicago on Thursday. After making it to the airport around 1, and getting onto an 11:30 flight that hadn’t departed yet (instead of my scheduled 5:00), and spending 3 or so hours on the runway, and getting de-iced three times, I ended up stuck in Dallas till Saturday morning.. that freak snowstorm messed with a lot of people’s travel schedules. But, I learned never to connect through Dallas if I’m trying to avoid snow (Houston was 70 and sunny that day I believe..)

  32. That blows, Mike. I’m glad i didn’t go either. Not only would Dallas have hosed my trip as well, but without you, the Airbaggers, and Eric, there wouldn’t be any other old-timers except Pollard to hang out with. I second Bradely. We can hang at Eric’s place if they open the roads back up.

  33. Mr. Hatred says:

    Fuck that sucks.

    Next time just fucking charge the plane.

    That works.

    Oh you could just, you know, bomb the airport.


  34. andrew k says:

    ok – so how did the redneck that posted comment #34 make it through the commen screening process? i feel sorry for the guy.

  35. Luke says:

    I feel sorry for the American people. We (Europeans) will support you when you will try to get your country back. After all, you helped us kick the Nazi/Fascists out…

  36. PR says:

    Since “SSSS” means “SSSSearch this guy”, there might be other similar codes. I have a friend who says if he ever gets a ticket stamped “FFFF” he’s getting out of there.

    I’ve gotten the SSSS (twice!) for being put on a different airline after an overnight stay because of being bumped on account of weather. If there is any type of passenger who is less likely to be executing a fiendish plan than one who has just unexpectedly spending the night in a strange city, I’d like to hear about it.

  37. Timchula says:

    Another interesting tidbit to go along with the SSSS tag. If you are active duty military and you use your Mil ID as your Gov’t issued ID to prove yourself, they will stamp your ticket with their special green stamp at the ticket counter so you don’t have to go through extra security.

    Its very convenient and gotten me passed that line twice now in just a few months. Apparently if someone orders a ticket for you and they aren’t located near you that raises a red flag too.

  38. […] Mark Davidson: “SSSS” in the corner of your boarding pass means extra-special love from the TSA. Hope your travel plans are flexible. Related, somewhat: Heigh-ho, heigh-ho Things on the list Book meme Asked and answered (breakfast cereal category) Tainted love […]

  39. JJ says:

    So you think SSSS is a guaranteed shakedown? Try carrying a guitar. I take mine to Mexico every year, to play benefits for a school for special needs kids. This is the first year I can recall when the Alaska/TSA people DIDN’T come up with some excuse to screw with me.

    Last year they X-rayed and opened my stuff five times between Manzanillo and Memphis. At Houston, I’m going through the check booth and the guy says to me, “Is that your guitar?” You mean the one I’m carrying in my right hand, Mr. DUMAS?

    “Why, yes it is.”

    “Follow the green line, sir.”


    “Follow the green line, sir.” “WHY? Were does it go? What’s wrong with carrying my guitar. I’m a goddamned musician!” No response from Mr. Green Line.

    And you know where the green line leads, right? Into a big room with another huge x-ray machine, and some security flunkie pouring through my baggage again. Did I let up on him? Not a chance. At least he seemed apologetic.

    When I got out of the green room I learned my flight had been delayed, so I went charging up the stairs towards the gate. Come around a corner and ran smack into another security line! Had to do it all over again. The idiocy just continues.

    The good news is I no longer carry a film camera. I went digital just so the boneheads at Midway Airport wouldn’t spend half an hour swabbing down every single roll of my Kodak and Fuji. I’d asked for a hand inspection of the film, since a lot of it was high ISO. They took my 60 rolls alright, and dumped them into a dirty tray even though they were already out of the cannisters and in a clear plastic baggie. They could have just swabbed the inside of the baggie. (No worries — there was nothing in it but film, heh.) Then they asked for my ticket, my boarding pass, my ID, if I was taking any sort of “medication.” After tieing up a supervisor and a flunkie for nearly 30 minutes (your tax dollars at work), the supe hands me back my film and says, “Hmmm…there must have been some sort of contamination on the tray.” WTF?!?!?!?!?

    So, needless to say, don’t get me started on these guys. SSSS is the least of my worries. Sorry they picked on you, too, but, as a TSA guy in Chicago whispered to me after the film incident, “Listen, there’s a lotta people here don’t know nothin’, they just talkin’ shit out the side of their heads.”

    Just for fun, check out .

  40. Bradley says:

    Hmmm… I’m starting to think that you handled the situation with a lot of class, Mike. *wink*

  41. Corpilot says:

    I love it. Every time I fly the airlines I get a woody. The absurdity of airline travel assures me and other corporate pilots of a job. One thing we do when we have to deadhead on the airlines is wear our monkey uniforms ( the funny airline bar and wing thingies). We feel like Gofer on the love boat but we always get sent right to the front of the line and security gives us better treatment. (note: we are not airline employees)

  42. Robert Nyman says:

    Sorry to hear this, Mike. One thing that struck me, though:

    Yes, apparently the old policy of always making sure passengers got on the plane if they put luggage on it is no longer a rule.

    Since practically everyone on my girlfriend’s family’s side work in the airline business, flying both European as well as long-haul flights, I believe that making sure that a passenger matching his/her bag is still mandatory, and if anything, even more important since September 11th.

  43. Mike,
    Sorry to here you had ‘one of those’ airline experiences. Up until recently my day job had me flying all over the country and world. I became very familiar with the SSSS treatment on boarding passes. It sucks, but I got used of pushing the boarding pass in the TSA guys face, usually pointing to the SSSS on the boarding pass and they would nod and put me in the cavity search line.
    The scary part is the amount of security precautions that failed.
    1) No back up TSA guy to catch you before making through security.
    2) Airline thought more people where on board than actually where.
    3) Bags made on a plane without you.
    All those items are basic airline security 101. I guess our nations airline system is getting relaxed again.

  44. […] think the code on the ticket should be “Orwell” not “SSSS.” SSSS Equals No SXSW 1. We had special “SSSS” designations on our boarding passes. Whenever you have an “SSSS” […]

  45. Jeff says:

    Similar incident here, but had to make the hike back through security check with wife and small child. They actually wanded my son with metal detector: He was a little over a year old. Then got stuck waiting for a later flight.

    Airline security is just for show.

  46. JJ says:

    Hey, just an afterthought…if you print your boarding pass online there’s no such tagging, right?

  47. JoeBlow says:

    I never pay with cash, always fly round-trip, usually book several months in advance, and am caucasian with a caucasian sounding last name, yet I get the SSSS about 90% of the time.

    I’ve somehow avoided TSA reps with big egos, but have seen others and know others who got screwed.

    Once I checked in with a drivers license that had expired earlier that week. The ticket agent refused to issue my ticket. I had to drive back home and get my passport, missing my flight and costing an extra 100 per ticket. I looked it up later and TSA rules state you can board without ID as long as you get the extra thorough search.
    I’ve tested this since and been able to pass through with expired ID and without ID several times.

    The absurd part is that some people actually feel safer. So many makeshift weapons could be easily brought on board. Go to any kitchen store and look for a lettuce knife. They come in ceramic or plastic, both of which would pass a metal detector. You could split up liquids in several 3 ounce bottles or between other passengers. In fact it makes more sense to have to mix liquids since a chemical reaction is going to be much more volatile reaction. Laptop batteries seem to be blow up by themselves now and then, so how hard would it be to make it happen. Or even worse, many people carry an extra battery pack. Pop that case open and change out all those cells for something that goes boom. Put it back together nice and pretty and it wouldn’t even look like an ‘improvised electronic device’ people get stopped for.

    Its all a joke and its all political. But hey, that doesn’t seem to stop everyone from going into a panic and giving away rights.

  48. Pallian says:

    I got that SSSS treatment on my way back from Sundance – and I thought they were just racial profiling me. Good to know anyone can get SSSS’d!

  49. JJ says:

    As if by magic…

    Mad at the TSA? Post your gripes about air travel on its new blog

    It’s not often that the federal government invites people to air their grievances. But the Transportation Security Administration is welcoming people to complain, criticize and question TSA operations on its “Evolution of Security” blog — — which went live Jan. 30. A TSA blogger team reads all of the comments and posts almost all of them, no matter how harsh or how cranky the poster.

    (major snip)

  50. Andy Bailey says:

    what a nightmare! maybe ssss means “Super Secret SS agent” lol

  51. Jason Beaird says:

    So that’s why I got the “full-treatment”… My inbound flight was supposed to go through Dallas early Friday morning and was canceled as well. The best American said they could do would have gotten me there at 10:30pm but I met a stranger who was also trying to get to Austin and so we switched our flight to Houston and split a rental car to Austin. We too almost missed our flight though because they had to wand us, pat us down down and “swab” everything we owned. They even swabbed all around my cast just in case I’d stuffed some cocaine or plastic explosives in there.

  52. Paul Annett says:

    Shame you didn’t make it, Mike.

    They’d overbooked our connecting BA flight and gave us some rubbish about our bags not making it between airplanes in time for our connection so they’d have to re-book us on a later American flight. By way of an apology, this resulted in an SSSS code, and an inferior airline with no upgrade. As it turned out, our bags did get across to the earlier BA flight in time after all, exposing their big lie.

    Nothing as bad as your experience, but an inconvenience nonetheless.

  53. Well Mike, here’s a positive outcome for you: my business partner and I had flown all the way from Australia for SXSW, only for our Qantas flight to get stuck on the tarmac at LAX for an hour, thus causing us to miss our Austin flight. We got jammed on a flight to Dallas, and ended up catch what I imagine was your flight from Dallas to Austin, delayed as it had been by several hours. If you’d got through, then there wouldn’t have been a seat for one of us (the plane was crammed). So, thank you!

    Also, we got SSSS’ed on our way out of Austin to JFK, probably to make up for the fact that we didn’t get SSSS’ed for either the LA-Dallas or Dallas-Austin flights. Boo ssssssss is what I say.

  54. julie says:

    Leave a complaint at

  55. Mike Stickel says:

    Boooo! I didn’t have any troubles with my flights but I was looking forward to finally meeting you in person. Damn SEA-TAC! Oh well, guess I’ll just have to wait until I’m back in Seattle in April.

  56. Matt Robin says:

    That’s nuts! Those crazy Airport Staff!! Sorry to hear about this.

  57. Colm says:

    Years ago, my brother got checked when boarding the Holyhead car ferry from the UK to Ireland. At the time he was a long haired theoretical physics student with an interest in philosophy. In his bag he had 1) a chemistry book 2) a philosophy book.

    This combination landed him in serious trouble with the security team who were convinced that they had captured a major IRA terrorist. They just could not get their heads around why a physics student would need a chemistry book (bombs!) and a philosophy book.

  58. […] counter so they could give me a pass to get to the gate, they wrote “SSSS” and for anyone who knows what that means, that means I did not have much fun going through security. I got the full security scan, the air […]

  59. oyun says:

    Similar incident here, but had to make the hike back through security check with wife and small child. They actually wanded my son with metal detector: He was a little over a year old. Then got stuck waiting for a later flight.

  60. ala says:

    I had no idea what SSSS code meant till I got to this website. I thought that it had to do something with immigration. I flu from EWR(Newark airport) to Toronto this year and I purchased one way ticket because I went home so why would I purchase two way ticket……….when I was entering usa earlier immigration officer was tough looking so I thought all that time he had something to do with it…………….
    I flu by Air Canada to YYZ Toronto…when I chcecked my laguage i had more weight in one suitcase than in another so agent let me move stuff to another……….???…….than surprise came at the TSA….they put on side and briefly checked.The guy was ok but didn’t answer why?……………Will I always be chcecked like SSSS or next flight will that stop?……………I love USA very much, and people too but crossing borders to usa and airports are very stressful ……lost interest to ever go back……………..

  61. Groo says:

    To Ala:

    Anytime you purchase a ticket for one way flight, you have to go through additional security. One way flight red flags you as a potential terrorist. There are cards out there you can get that show you’ve had a background check and allow TSA to expedite you without all the security fuss, but I think the whole idea is stupid because any of the 9/11 attackers could probably have passed the checks or bought round trip tickets. Seriously if you just want to jack a plane the extra money isn’t going to be an issue as your going to die anyways so not like you’re going to miss your house payment, lol. The best way to keep planes secure, IMO, is just make sure an air marshal is on board with a gun, raise ticket prices a bit to pay her/him, and if anybody charges the cockpit they get their ass blown off. Let pilots have guns, and make that cockpit door as secure as possible, it’ll pay for itself in the long run.

  62. Groo says:

    Oh yeah and they should put those bomb container things in the luggage bay. I don’t know the name offhand but have seen these on the news and they will contain an explosion. After all that the only easy way to take a plane down is missiles and I just read commercial airlines are testing anti-missile systems. There are plenty of obvious ways to disrupt aircraft and kill passengers but I think those cover the easiest ways and I’m not going into further detail of what ideas I know might work :D .

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