Expat frequent flyers will often go through passport and customs control at airports with bated breath hoping they don’t get picked for a more thorough search.
And it’s probably occurred to many that there seems to be no reason why certain people are stopped and searched – or is there something more sinister going on?
The clue is in your boarding pass.
If you can see ‘SSSS’ stamped on your pass, your card is literally marked every time you cross a border or land at an airport.
The letters brand you as a risk and mean ‘Secondary Security Screening Selection’ because your name is on the secret database – the Selectee List.
Red flags for fliers
The security services know all about you before you get to the airport. They routinely run passenger manifests against watch lists.
Passengers branded as SSSS are not just terrorists. These people can include the US No Fly List, which is rumoured to run to almost 2 million names, or the Do Not Board List for people suspected of carrying a serious communicable disease.
You may also be suspected of drug running or bad behaviour in the air.
Other red flags are single passengers, travellers booking one-way flights, cash payment and simple random selection by security guards.
Besides checking for those four fateful letters, another way of checking if you are likely to have a pat-down or your luggage searched is not being able to print out a boarding pass at home or through a self-service kiosk.
Can you print your boarding pass?
Trying to do so flags an error message, pushing SSSS passengers towards a manned checkout where they are identified prior to search.
So next time you go through an airport and see someone pulled aside for a more thorough search as they pass through customs, they are either on the SSSS lists or unlucky because they are one of many passengers picked for special attention at random.
If you are chosen, you will still be allowed to fly, but you will have to put up with some unwanted attention from airport security – but if that makes flying safer, then who really cares if they have nothing to hide?