Security/TSA

IntereSSSSting: Did I Find A Way To Get Around Secondary Screening?

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Since the beginning of 2017, my airport experience has gotten significantly less pleasant. Specifically I seem to be on some sort of a list. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, given the number of countries I travel to. Heck, I suppose I’m surprised it took this long for my activity to look suspicious to the government.

Because I’m on whatever list, my boarding pass always has an “SSSS” on it, which means I receive a thorough secondary screening.

I’ve started the process of trying to appeal this by requesting a Redress number. Essentially you can fill out a form to get your name cleared, and then in theory you’ll be given a Redress number, which should help going forward. While I’ve started the process, apparently it can take a couple of months for the application to even be reviewed, so I’m not expecting immediate results.

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Everything You Need To Know About Getting An “SSSS” On Your Boarding Pass

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Have you ever had an “SSSS” on your boarding pass when flying? Well, unfortunately I’ve become so accustomed to getting this that I figured I’d write a guide about what to expect.

What does “SSSS” on a boarding pass mean?

“SSSS” stands for secondary security screening selection. I’m not sure if they came up with the acronym first and then came up with words to justify it, or what.

Simply put, it means you’re getting an extra thorough search when you go through security.

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I Just Applied For A Redress Number…

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As I first wrote about a bit over a week ago, I seem to be on some sort of a U.S. government watchlist. I belong to the TSA Trusted Traveler program, and am typically eligible for Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check.

For about a month now, I’ve gotten an “SSSS” (signaling that additional screening is needed) on my boarding pass before every single flight, despite having my Known Traveler Number on each reservation. While in the past I’ve gotten secondary screening occasionally, I’ve never had it on back to back trips, let alone six back to back trips.

So it’s clear I’m on some sort of a list, though interestingly I’ve had no trouble at immigration the two times I’ve gone through since this issue has started; I can still use Global Entry as usual.

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The TSA Threatens To Cut Free Pre-Check Access… Again

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TSA Pre-Check is the expedited security screening process that has been around for several years now, allowing selected travelers to leave on their shoes, and also leave their liquids and laptops in their bags. It really makes the security experience significantly more pleasant when departing the U.S. on eligible airlines.

The only way to get TSA Pre-Check consistently is by enrolling in a Trusted Traveler Program. You can enroll directly in TSA Pre-Check, though it’s a much better deal to enroll in either Global Entry or NEXUS, as enrollment in those programs comes with Pre-Check (meanwhile enrollment in Pre-Check doesn’t get you Global Entry). Then you just enter your Known Traveler Number when you book your ticket, and hopefully you get Pre-Check.

However, in practice, many who aren’t enrolled in the TSA Pre-Check program still get access to the expedited screening. The TSA wants a certain number of travelers to use the lanes in order to be able to justify them, so they’ve identified low risk travelers and given them access to Pre-Check on a selective basis.

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11 More Airlines Have Joined TSA Pre-Check

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The two innovations of the past several years that have made the US travel experience substantially more pleasant have been TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry. As a reminder, TSA Pre-Check allows eligible travelers expedited security screening, where they don’t have to take off their shoes, or take their liquids or laptops out of their bags.

Meanwhile Global Entry allows for expedited customs & immigration, where eligible travelers can just use kiosks at immigration, rather than having to queue for an agent.

While Global Entry is valid regardless of which airline you’re flying, TSA Pre-Check requires flying certain airlines that are enrolled in the program.

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Grrrr: I Must Be On Some Sort Of A Government Watchlist

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For the most part, my airport experience is easier than ever before. Between TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry, the two most frustrating aspects of the airport experience — security and immigration — are a breeze.

Well, at least that’s the case most of the time. If you’re a frequent flyer you’ve no doubt at some point received an “SSSS” on your boarding pass. That stands for “secondary security screening selection.” As the name suggests, when you see that on your boarding pass, it means you’re subjected to additional security screening.

This has actually become a pretty intense process in the U.S. Your bags are screened as usual, then you have to go through the metal detector, then you have to go through the body scanner, then you get a full body pat down, and then they search every inch of your belongings.

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For The First Time Ever, The TSA Made An Exception For Me… Is This New?

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As anyone who has taken a flight out of the U.S. in the past decade knows, you’re banned from taking liquids greater than 100ml (3.4 ounces) through a TSA checkpoint. The war on hydration sure seems silly to me, though I think most of us have gotten used to it by now.

Anecdotally I find that the TSA usually doesn’t pull aside bags anymore for 4-5 ounce liquids. Going through Pre-Check I don’t remember the last time I had my bag pulled aside for a secondary. Even when not using Pre-Check I typically don’t take liquids out of my bag, and almost never have an issue.

All that being said, when they do search your bag and you have oversized liquids, they’ll almost always make you dump them… but something was different today.

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Terrorists Beware When Ordering A Special Airplane Meal

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Oy, file this under “what were they thinking?” Governments collect a lot of information about airline passengers, often before they even arrive in the country. However, there are limits to the data that can be collected, as it doesn’t include things like religion (at least not officially).

However, at a recent border security conference in Hungary, Swiss’ facilitation and security manager had some interesting things to say. Per Middle East Eye:

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Cocaine Smuggling Flight Attendant Pleads Guilty, Faces 10+ Years In Jail

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Back in March I wrote about a JetBlue flight attendant who fled LAX after being caught with 70 pounds of cocaine in her suitcase, which is valued at roughly two million dollars. The TSA has the “Known Crewmember” program, where registered airline employees can bypass security. They simply have to present two forms of identification, and are sometimes randomly subjected to further screening.

Well, that’s exactly what happened to a JetBlue flight attendant at LAX where she tried to get on a flight through the Known Crewmember lane. Unfortunately for her, she was subjected to extra screening this time around, at which point she took off her Gucci heels, left behind her suitcase, and ran. Somehow she managed to escape the airport, and even got on a flight to New York, before she eventually turned herself in.

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Stockholm Airport Introducing US Pre-Clearance Facility In 2018

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In May 2015, the DHS announced their intent to expand US Pre-Clearance facilities to 10 new airports over the coming years. For those of you not familiar with Pre-Clearance facilities, it basically means that US Customs Border Protection officers are stationed at an airport outside the US, so you clear customs and immigration before boarding your US bound flight. That means you land in the US as a domestic passenger.

At the time, the possible airports included the following:

“Brussels Airport, Belgium; Punta Cana Airport, Dominican Republic; Narita International Airport, Japan; Amsterdam Airport Schipol, Netherlands; Oslo Airport, Norway; Madrid-Barajas Airport, Spain; Stockholm Arlanda Airport, Sweden; Istanbul Ataturk Airport, Turkey; and London Heathrow Airport and Manchester Airport, United Kingdom”

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Lufthansa Becomes First European Airline To Join TSA Pre-Check

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The two innovations of the past several years that have made the US travel experience substantially more pleasant have been TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry. As a reminder, TSA Pre-Check allows eligible travelers expedited security screening, where they don’t have to take off their shoes, or take their liquids or laptops out of their bags.

Meanwhile Global Entry allows for expedited customs & immigration, where eligible travelers can just use kiosks at immigration, rather than having to queue for an agent.

While Global Entry is valid regardless of which airline you’re flying, TSA Pre-Check requires flying certain airlines that are enrolled in the program.

A few months back we saw some international airlines join TSA Pre-Check, including Aeromexico and Etihad Airways. Well, the great news is that a European airline has now joined the TSA Pre-Check program for the first time. Lufthansa just became the 18th airline to offer TSA Pre-Check, and the first European airline to do so.

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What Caused LAX To Shut Down Last Night? The Airport Authority Explains

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Last night I wrote about how LAX was shut down after reports of an active shooter surfaced. Passengers were evacuated, dozens of flights were diverted, and hundreds of flights were delayed.

The situation seemed to diffuse pretty quickly, as the story changed from there being an active shooter to there being a miscommunication/false alarm.

What we do know is that there was a man in a Zorro costume with a plastic sword being detained by half a dozen police officers at gunpoint. On one hand I assumed that wasn’t the cause of the incident. On the other hand it would be very coincidental if this just happened to be at the same time that something else big was happening at the airport.

Well, this morning there’s a bit more clarity as to what happened last night, as Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) has issued a statement within the past hour about last night’s incident. Here’s their explanation of what happened:

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LAX Airport Shuts Down Due To… Well, We Don’t Really Know

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A couple of weeks JFK Airport shut down after gunfire was reported at the airport. As it turns out, there wasn’t actually gunfire, but rather the chaos and confusion may just have been caused by people cheering on Usain Bolt’s Olympics performance.

Well, LAX has shut down tonight, and we don’t yet know why. Initial reports indicated that there was an active shooter within the past hour, which has led to a massive evacuation.

However, it’s now looking like that may not have actually been the case, and that this was instead a hoax or miscommunication. The LAPD is saying that the reports of shooting have been proven to be “loud noises only,” and that no shots were fired.

I imagine we’ll find out more in the coming hours, though in the meantime the airport is closed and there’s a ground stop in effect.

However, the footage of people evacuating is pretty insane, both landside and airside (where we see people being evacuated onto the tarmac):

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Don’t Redeem Your United Miles For TSA Pre-Check

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Loyalty programs have increasingly been adding opportunities for members to enroll in TSA Pre-Check. Some airlines have given TSA Pre-Check memberships away to elite members for free, while others have been allowing members to redeem points for them. On top of that, several credit cards offer Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check fee credits, like The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Citi Prestige® Card.

For example, a few months ago I wrote about how Alaska Airlines now lets you redeem 10,000 points for the $85 TSA Pre-Check enrollment fee. That’s a horrible value at 0.85 cents per mile, given that I value Alaska miles at ~1.8 cents each. Perhaps an even worse value is Club Carlson’s recent offer to redeem 65,000 points for the $85 TSA Pre-Check enrollment fee.

Now you can add United to the list of airlines that will let you redeem miles for the TSA Pre-Check enrollment fee. United will let you redeem 10,000 MileagePlus miles for the TSA Pre-Check enrollment fee.

Personally I value United miles at ~1.4 cents each, so to me those 10,000 miles are worth ~$140; I certainly wouldn’t redeem them for an $85 credit.

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