Early last month on the way back from a long trip to China, I checked into the airport and Hong Kong and got the kiss of death on my boarding pass: an “SSSS” printed on the top corner.

 

A special code for airport security, SSSS basically signals a checkpoint that extra screening is required. How that’s implemented basically varies by checkpoint; in some cases, luggage is emptied and searched from top to bottom; in my case, a cursory check of my bag and an explosives swab got me on my way. Seeing an “SSSS” on one’s boarding pass is fairly rare — especially if the traveler has TSA Precheck and Global Entry — and is usually reserved for (arguably) suspicious outstanding events such as a last second, one way, expensive fare or a passenger paying in cash.

Curiously, however, my experience was not unique among the community. Brian Kelly, founder of The Points Guy, experienced the same occurrence on a flight returning from Turkey last month. And then again that very week. In a post following up on his debacle, readers poured into the comments to leave their own stories about extra security, many of them focusing on travel to Turkey.

It is unclear whether the uptick in special screening is linked to a global event, frequent fliers or travel to Turkey in general, but the government is being tight lipped. The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment about specific efforts while the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which maintains the Terrorist Screening Center and the government watch list, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

All that we, as consumers, are left with is the knowledge that security — particularly international security and especially security coming from Turkey — is curiously high right now. It’s probably best in the near term to plan for longer lines and keep those liquids under 100mL.

Tags: security, tsa
Photo Credit: Travelers wait in long security lines at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, in Seattle. Elaine Thompson / Associated Press