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If You See These 3 Letters on Your Plane Ticket, You May Get Bumped

This can be a sign that your flight has been oversold—and you may not have a seat.

The idea of a plane ticket can be an exciting prospect to any traveler, whether you're using it to take a much-deserved vacation or to reconnect with loved ones who live far away. However, when it comes to the actual printed document itself, there's hardly anything inspiring about the gate assignment or boarding information it contains. But experts warn you to always be on the lookout for one major red flag on your boarding pass. Read on to see which three letters on your plane ticket mean you could be getting bumped from your flight.

RELATED: Never Do This Before Takeoff, Flight Attendant Warns.

Seeing the letters "GTE" printed on your plane ticket mean you could be getting bumped from an oversold flight.

A couple looking at their flight boarding pass with a concerned look on their faces

There's a feeling of satisfaction and relief that comes with being handed a boarding pass after you make it to the airport on time. But just because you've got that coveted piece of paper in your hand doesn't mean you're guaranteed to be taking off any time soon. According to a ticket agent for Air Canada, seeing the letters "GTE" printed on your plane ticket means that your flight is oversold and that you may not make it on to your flight at all, the CBC reports.

"If someone has 'GTE' [for 'gate'] on their boarding pass, it means they don't have a seat," the anonymous employee explained.

You should immediately speak to an agent about getting a seat assignment, even if it's on another flight.

A family wearing face masks speaks with a ticket agent at the airport

Navigating the complicated system of airline reservations can be an infuriating experience. After all, it can be supremely frustrating to know that the ticket you paid for may not be honored because of a mistake the carrier made—especially during a busy travel period. In this case, experts say it can be best to get to your gate right away and try to secure a seat assignment immediately. If they cannot guarantee you a spot on the flight, your next best option is to see which other flights are leaving for your destination and try to get a secured seat—including flights that might leave earlier than your original departure, The Sun reports.

And while there's no foolproof way to prevent being bumped, there's still one way you can better your odds of leaving on time. According to experts, this can be as easy as checking in to your flight as soon as it becomes available 24 to 36 hours before takeoff to make sure you can secure a seat assignment right away. On top of actually making your originally scheduled flight, this can also help you avoid sitting in a dreaded middle seat on a long flight.

"There are a few instances where it is quite important to check in early—and the earlier, the better," Scott Keyes, founder of travel blog and airfare website Scott's Cheap Flights, tells Travel + Leisure. "Sometimes airlines allow seat selection after check-in or at least have first pick compared to folks who check-in later. It's rare these days, but every once in a while, check-in time can be the tiebreaker for determining upgrades, too."

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Don't take the first offer from the airline if you happen to be on an oversold flight.

Group of people at departure gate

While finding yourself on an oversold flight with no seat to call your own can feel like a pretty powerless situation, you may still be in an excellent position to walk away with some seriously hefty travel vouchers in your pocket. Just make sure to avoid getting lowballed by negotiating with the airline the right way. "Being eager and getting up there early is a good thing, but taking the first offer they give you is a bad thing," Willis Orlando, senior product operations specialist at the insider-intel platform Scott's Cheap Flights, previously told Best Life.

Instead of accepting the airline's first offer, you could try approaching the podium early and saying, "Hey, I'll be bumped, but I want to have the same compensation as the last person who volunteers," Orlando suggests. "Airlines tend to increase compensation as the pressure gets higher and they're trying to get those final people off the flight."

Note that, per the U.S. Department of Transportation, "There is no limit to the amount of money or vouchers that the airline may offer, and passengers are free to negotiate with the airline."

Seeing "SSSS" printed on your boarding pass is a sign you've been selected for an advanced security screening.

TSA agent searching through someone's luggage at the airport

Seeing "GTE" on a boarding pass might be one of the most dreaded travel day snafus, but it's not the only sign you'll encounter inconvenience at the airport. According to experts, if you notice the letters "SSSS" stamped on your plane ticket, you can expect to be held up for an additional lengthy security search before you can board.

The code, which stands for "secondary security screening selection," is an enhanced pre-boarding passenger check used by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as an extra level of security. "When you book a plane ticket in today's digitized world, your airline submits your name, gender, and date of birth to the TSA for clearance," Frank Harrison, regional security director for North America and the U.K. at travel risk management company World Travel Protection, told Condé Nast Traveler. "Airlines are motivated to ensure you are TSA-approved before you take to the skies [because] there are fines for allowing uncleared passengers onto aircraft."

Unfortunately, seeing "SSSS" on your ticket may be a reason for concern if you're in a rush: Experts warn that any passenger whose boarding pass is marked with the symbol can expect to have 15 to 45 added to the security clearance and boarding process. And while the experience can be different in each case, most searches include additional scans of personal belongings, manual searches of all personal baggage, swabbing luggage for explosives or narcotics, enhanced questioning about travel plans, and additional identity checks by agents, travel blog Simple Flying reports. Even though there's no way to be sure why or when you'll be targeted for advanced screening, experts point out that being told you can't download or print your boarding pass before arriving at the airport is a likely warning sign the airline has selected you—and should be all the reason you need to show up much earlier than expected.

RELATED: Never Do This When Your Flight Is Delayed, Experts Warn.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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