Airport "Security" Jokes 2

Posted by F 14/02/2006 at 18h53

I’m at the Saint Louis International airport (STL), waiting to board on my flight back to Dallas. I have just experienced another stupidity of the airport (in)security procedures. This post is not about software, but software security and “physical” security depend on each other.

It’s an American Airlines flight. You can usually do the check-in procedure online, and print the boarding-pass yourself before heading to airport. This is a welcomed service, but this time it gave me an error, something like: “Sorry, you cannot check-in online, please see an agent at the airport”.

No big deal. At the airport I used one of the automated kiosks to print my boarding pass. And it worked, without the need of an agent.

I proceeded to security screening. The TSA officer highlighted a “SSSS” imprint on the lower-right corner of my boarding-pass and said: “you’ve been randomly selected for additional screening, please come this way…”.

I couldn’t believe it!. They randomly selected me for screening, but they warned me about it in advance!… I mean, now I (and you) know that if a passenger gets a quadruple-“S” code it means he/she will get additional screening!

I asked the TSA guy how could the process be so flawed. He replied that he understood my concern, but he was not responsible for defining the process and couldn’t give me his opinion. Later, I asked one of the American Airlines agents:

  agent: "Well, yeah... but most people don't know that the
          SSSS code means they'll be screened."

     me: "Sure, but most people are not terrorist either. And I bet ALL
          terrorist DO know about this SSSS-joke"

  agent: "yeah, I know... the whole process is so stupid...".

I’m all for random security screenings and checks, but please, don’t tell the passenger in advance! The random selection should be done right there, at screening time, and not before.

What’s more, you don’t need to go to the airport to know you have high changes of being picked for additional screening: if the online check-in refuses to let you in, you will probably get the infamous quad-S code.

More stupidity: This actually happened first on my Dallas-to-Saint Louis segment of a round-trip. Now I’m returning to Dallas, and I got the exact same thing: no online check-in allowed, got the boarding-pass with the SSSS code at the kiosk, and was “picked” for additional screening. Talk about “surprise factor” :-).


Later, I googled for “SSSS” and found it stands for Selected for Secondary Security Screening, and it’s nothing new. It’s been there for years, and even the Department of the Interior warns about it!.

For those interested in security topics in general (and computer security in particular) you should subscribe to Bruce Schneier’s newsletter and/or blog. A simple search for TSA on his blog finds more than 80 articles about the questionable effectiveness of the TSA, and the millions of dollars they are burning.

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  1. Rudy 24/05/2009 at 10h48
    Yea thats one "stupid" security measure but as an airline employee who has also worked (formerly) as an airport security person and now as a airline employee i can tell you several more. for example: when a Law Enforcement officer arrives with his weapon on him ( such as the so-called "air marshalls") the screener will actually announce - OUT LOUD - " L E O " and then airport security will permit this person (Law Enforcement Officer) to "Side step" the metal detector and proceed to their gate... Now imagine if a terroist is watching this whole 'show" common sense will tell him/her/them...that person must be armed? I suggested' the pre-screener' give some other - non verbal- indication such as a hand jesture or a pendant' which the LEO can attach to his/her lapel prior to walking through, so the security person on the other side will see "this is a LEO so expect the detector to alarm"....TSA should have the LEO walk thru metal detector and set off the alarm (to blend in with everyone else) then "fake" a pat down and let the LEO proceed to gate.
  2. Rudy 24/05/2009 at 10h50
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