The seemingly random letters on boarding passes are actually codes about the passengers

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Young women with their boarding passes

Anybody who went on holiday over the summer may have taken a look at their boarding pass and wondered whether the seemingly random letters actually mean anything.

It turns out they do have meanings – and that some numbers are far worse than others.

The USA’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) designed a special code for passengers on flights that use American airspace.

Young women with their boarding passes

One sequence you really don’t want to see printed on your pass is ‘SSSS’.

It stands for ‘Secondary Security Screening Selection’ and means you have been deemed suspicious by the authorities and will need to go through extra security checks.

People with ‘SSSS’ on their boarding pass will not be able to print their pass at home and will need to visit a special counter to get their passport checked rather than check in at a kiosk.

The TSA says it identifies “low and high-risk passengers before they arrive at the airport by matching their names against trusted traveller lists and watch lists”.

It isn’t just ‘high risk passengers’ who could find this code on their pass – it could appear on a pass if the passenger has only booked a one-way flight, booked at the last minute or paid in cash.

Even if you match none of the above criteria, you could still be unlucky and find the ‘SSSS’ on your pass as they are also occasionally added to random passes.

Other less worrying codes include:

BHMY – this means you have booked the most basic/economy class and have one of the cheapest tickets on the flight.

Q – means you have a cheap ticket and will not be considered for a free upgrade.

E – is the code for ‘Premium economy’ which is in between economy and first class.

C or J – means the passenger is in business class and either has an account with the airline or is a frequent flyer.

Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcalling

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