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SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The 4-Letter Code You Never Want to See on Your Boarding Pass

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

There are plenty of reasons flying is stressful, but one of the biggest headaches of modern air travel is the security procedures. Who knows what fresh nightmares the TSA will have cooked up for you by the time you hit the terminal?

Well, there’s at least one hint you can use to determine whether or not you’ll be spending a little more time in the security area on your way to your gate, and it has nothing to do with that bottle of water you’re carrying. As both Refinery29 and Business Insider have reported, there's a four-letter code at the bottom of your boarding pass that can tell you whether you'll be pulled aside for extra screening.

If you see the letters “SSSS” at the bottom of your ticket, you’re in for a little extra attention at the security checkpoint. To compound the headache, you won’t be able to print your boarding pass at home, and will have to get it when you arrive at the airport.

If you’re predestined by the airport gods (also known as the TSA’s Secure Flight program) for Secondary Security Screening Selection, you’ll get an “enhanced screening,” which means you might get some extra questioning or be subjected to a pat-down, body scan, or luggage search.

While some passengers are chosen for extra screening at random, the TSA also flags people based on what they call “risk-based, intelligence-driven information." The so-called “selectee” list, a less strict version of the No-Fly list, is maintained by the FBI’s counterterrorism unit. Being on the list can be a huge pain: The ACLU reports [PDF] that people on the Selectee list “can be subjected to delays, humiliation, and improper questioning about the First Amendment-protected beliefs and associations—no matter how many times they have been through such screening and cleared security.”

As One Mile at a Time credit card blogger Ben "Lucky" Schlappig, who flies frequently and has been subjected to the process, explains it, it usually takes about 10 to 20 minutes of extra time in the security line to pass through the enhanced screening. Many people who receive extra screening believe it’s due to traveling to places that look suspicious to the government, as in the case of a travel blogger whose frequent flier points took him on a confusingly circuitous trip through Turkey. Even though he was already a member of TSA’s Global Entry background check program, he still seemed to have ended up on a watchlist. (That said, it's very difficult to figure out if you're on one of these lists and why, so it's hard to say for sure why you might get flagged regularly.)

But if you only receive the SSSS code once, you probably don’t have to worry about being on any sort of list. You may just have been selected at random. Lucky you.

[h/t Refinery29]

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Want Priority Boarding On Your Alaska Airlines Flight This Holiday Season? Wear an Ugly Christmas Sweater
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Between steep fares and crowded terminals, flying during the holidays isn’t fun. But on Friday, December 15, a special Alaska Airlines promotion will ease boarding stress and transform packed planes into mile-high ugly sweater parties, in honor of National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day. As the Los Angeles Times reports, the airline will offer free early boarding to travelers willing to don their holiday worst at the airport.

The promotion is good for all Alaska Airlines flights in the airline’s 115-city network, and for flights offered by Virgin America and Horizon Air (both of which are operated by Alaska Airlines). In addition to escaping the waiting crowds, passengers who share the most festive knitted looks will be featured on Alaska Air's social media pages if they tag their photos and videos using the hashtags #UglySweaterDay and #MostWestCoast. And since no plane aisle-turned-catwalk is complete without a soundtrack, “festive holiday-themed boarding music will play all month long to help get guests into the holiday spirit,” according to a press release.

Worried you’ll be the only person on the plane wearing a sequined Rudolph cardigan? Even if other passengers don’t get the memo, airline crew will also be wearing ugly sweaters—so feel free to unleash your inner Chevy Chase from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]

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Here Are the Best and Worst Days for Christmas Travel
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Scott Olson/Getty Images

Flight delays are always a hassle, but the holidays add an extra layer of stress. No one wants to be stuck at the airport while their family is digging into Christmas dinner. And even if you fly long before the holiday itself, airports are always more hectic during the holiday season. Between the high volume of travelers and the whims of winter weather, getting off the ground doesn’t necessarily feel like a given when you leave for the airport.

But not all airports and days are equally prone to flight issues, according to U.S. Bureau of Transportation data from the last five years, as analyzed by the electric supply company Elite Fixtures, which previously analyzed the worst airports for Thanksgiving travel.

A green chart lists travel delays and flight cancellation statistics by date.
Elite Fixtures

On average, you’re less likely to be delayed if you’re traveling the week before Christmas or on the holiday itself, the data shows. December 25 has actually had the lowest percentage (18 percent) of delayed flights over the last five years, giving you a good excuse if you want to flee to the airport directly after your family’s holiday meal. Traveling December 18 and 19 is also a good idea, since only 26 percent of flights are typically delayed on those days.

A red chart details travel delay and cancellation statistics by date.
Elite Fixtures

Beware the 22nd and 23rd of December, though. On those days, an average of 32 percent and 34 percent of flights get delayed, respectively. The few days after Christmas are also likely to stick you with an annoying delay—33 and 34 percent of flights are delayed on the 26th and 27th.

A green-and-gray U.S. map highlights the 10 best airports for holiday travel with plane icons.
Elite Fixtures

Airlines don’t encounter flight difficulties in equal measure across all airports, though. If you’re flying through one of the airports above, congratulations! The likelihood of getting delayed is less than at the Houston or Oakland airports, both hubs with the highest rates of holiday flight delays in the U.S.

Unfortunately, no matter what day you fly and where you fly from, there's no way to really predict whether your flight will leave on time. You'll just have to hope that Santa brings you the seamless holiday travel experience you put on your Christmas list.

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