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If You See These 4 Letters on Your Plane Ticket, Expect a Delay, Experts Warn

Seeing this on your boarding pass means it will take you longer to get on your flight.

Despite your best efforts, some travel delays can't be avoided even by planning ahead. And whether it's a traffic jam on the way to the airport or an excruciatingly long line at baggage check and security, these unexpected speed bumps can sometimes put you in real danger of missing your flight. But even if you think there's smooth sailing to your gate once you arrive at your terminal, you can still get held up before you board. Read on to see how your plane ticket can tell you if you're going to be delayed in getting to your flight.

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

Seeing the letters "SSSS" printed on your boarding ticket means you've been selected for a security screening.

boarding passes

When you receive your boarding pass, the first information you might look for could be what seat assignment you've received, which gate you need to get to, or what time your flight begins boarding. But 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 extra screening can add 15 to 45 minutes to your boarding process.

A TSA agent searches luggage at an airport.

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."

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 process 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.

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How and when you book your flights could cause you to get flagged for the additional security search.

Security guard with face mask in front of airplane

Experts warn that it's more or less impossible to know if you're going to be selected for additional security screening when you book your tickets, but there are some clues. Not being able to download or view a digital boarding pass before your flight or being instructed by the airline to print a physical ticket at a kiosk in the terminal could indicate the TSA has flagged your reservation, travel blog One Mile At a Time reports.

But how does the TSA choose who gets flagged? According to experts, certain booking behaviors such as purchasing one-way tickets, making last-minute reservations, or traveling to "high-risk" countries can draw the agency's attention. It's also possible your name could closely resemble one on a federal aviation watch list—or that the agency may have added you for one reason or another. In other cases, it could just be that you were randomly selected for the enhanced search process.

"Many travelers unknowingly flag themselves due to inconsistent but innocuous travel behaviors such as booking a last-minute ticket or paying in cash," says Harrison. "If you exhibit behavior that is inconsistent with your profile—say, for example, suddenly adopting a jet-setting pattern—this is a red flag and a potential alert for drug or human trafficking. Consistency is king."

Seeing "GTE" on your boarding pass means you may not make it onto your oversold flight.

a group of customers yelling at an airport agent, customer service

While being forced through an enhanced security process could stretch your time in the airport thin, it's arguably not the worst boarding pass red flag you might see. 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.

While there's no guaranteed way to prevent your airline from selling more tickets than there are seats on a flight, there is one way to help avoid being bumped. Experts recommend using your airline's app or website to always check in to your flight as soon as possible—usually 24 to 48 hours before departure—and try to pick a seat if at all possible to improve your odds. "People with unassigned seats tend to be the first ones taken off planes when the flights are oversold," Terry Suero, travel specialist and senior board member at travel planning agency Safe Travel Pathways, tells Reader's Digest.

RELATED: Never Forget to Do This After Boarding, Flight Attendant Warns.

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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