He Challenged The Federal Mask Mandate. They Put Him On A Terrorist Watch List.

The federal government requires mask-wearing on planes, not because planes are the place where Covid-19 is most likely to spread, but because it’s where they have the strongest claim to a legal basis along with other interstate transportation.

But the federal mask mandate is legally questionable. It relies on a similar stretch of CDC statutory authority as the federal eviction moratorium which the Supreme Court struck down. However if the mask mandate isn’t extended past January 18, 2022 I’ve expected that the rule will simply lapse before it’s finally adjudicated in the challenges currently facing it (which are, as far as I’m aware, proceeding pro se).

And my bet has been that as low as we’re not seeing a major spike in Covid-19 cases before the Christmas holidays, that the rule will be allowed to sunset. If it’s extended, it might be for another six months. The Biden administration, though, will want to ‘declare victory’ on the virus before midterm elections one year from now.

One of the people challenging the legality of the federal mask mandate is Michael Faris, and he’s filed a motion with the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to be removed from a government terrorism watchlist he was placed on after seeking to litigate the mask requirement.

  • He filed his suite against the mask rule on October 19. He claims that he should be considered medically exempt from the mask requirement, which the federal regulation allows for, but that he hasn’t been able to obtain such an exemption from any airline.

  • On October 21 he couldn’t check in for his flight home from Southern California to Kentucky on United Airlines. He was eventually issued an ‘SSSS’ boarding pass. “Agents told Faris this meant he had likely be placed on a terrorist watchlist.”

“TSA’s action placing Mr. Faris … on its terrorist watchlist for filing this lawsuit challenging the FTMM represents the absolute worst form of vengeance against citizens exercising our First Amendment right to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” according to the court filing. “Suing TSA does not constitute a threat of terrorism nor any other risk to transportation security that warrants placement on the watchlist.”

Another passenger who filed suit against the mask mandate claims to have been placed on a watchlist as well, which they discovered after trying to check in for a Delta flight on October 26.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I don’t know what happened with this fellow, but we know very well that there are myriad, some seemingly random, reasons why SSSS can appear on your boarding pass. I know many people to whom this has ocurred once or twice.

  2. So is he denied boarding?? SSSS means he got a boarding pass right? Still, very typical of this Biden bureaucratcy.

  3. “Agents told Faris this meant he had likely be placed on a terrorist watchlist.”

    Thought leader, do you think this is true. Is the *most likely* reason to see an SSSS on your boarding pass that you are on a terrorist watch list? Were these “agents” correct?

  4. Hmmm. According to the FBI Terrorist Screening Center, no one should be put on the watch list for “any First Amendment-protected activities such as free speech, the exercise of religion, freedom of press, freedom of peaceful assembly, and petitioning the government for redress of grievances.” Clearly filing a lawsuit is a petition of the government for a redress of grievances, so that would be a violation of policy. But the list itself is classified. If you think you’ve been put on it incorrectly, there’s the DHS TRIP program that can look into your case, but odds are, even if removed and given a Redress Control Number (this is what that mysterious little box is when buying airline tickets), I doubt you’d find out how you got on the list in the first place. Finding that out would probably require a separate lawsuit, which will take forever.

    My guess is some zealous little bureaucrat is pushing a few buttons and making people they don’t like lives a little more difficult, thinking it’ll never be traced back to them. Another possibility is the person who filed the lawsuit has done more than just file the lawsuit, and perhaps has done something to warrant being on the list. Either way, I’d think the fast way to find out your status, especially if it’s because you filed a lawsuit, would be to contact a sympathetic Congress member and have them look into it.

  5. The thought leader likes to spin a good story but forgets to consider impact international relations has on extension of federal mask mandate ie if you want to fly into country x, you will be wearing a mask. Where x will be most countries who won’t care about US midterm elections. And if that means some of the legal challenges against it will proceed, so be it. Nice try. Now go fix those typos.

  6. I expect better rom you Gary. Having an SSSS is not an indication someone is on terrorist watch list. You know this, everyone know this.

  7. I was once told by United Airlines many years ago that “SSSS” is sometimes randomly assigned to passengers for “random checks”. If I recall correctly (?), a “privileged-level” check-in agent for an international flight was able to remove my random “SSSS” designation and issue me a normal boarding pass (I think I had to rush to the departure gate for boarding). But during the other times that I’ve gotten that random designation (including when overseas returning back to USA), there was nothing extraordinary beyond just inspecting my carry-ons more thoroughly.

    Even when going through TSA-Pre lines, there have also been random step-aside checks of carry-ons for “scents” of “explosive agents” within them. No big deal with that, either.

  8. I can only hope that Trump fans and other apologists for the Republican Party of today will come out against government blacklisting of any and all free persons and realize that freedom to travel domestically is undermined by the general requirement to have an ID check to be able to fly on airlines.

    Just say no to blacklisting and ID checks at airports across America and this charade can end.

  9. Getting a haraSSSSment screening boarding pass for a US domestic flight on a wholly domestic booking is a sign of being subjected to the same terrorist watchlist system and process as that applicable to people flagged as a threat of sort when flying by common carriers but who are legally free because the US government lacks evidence and resources to legally treat them worse than to harass them.

  10. I have PreCheck but I’ve gotten the SSSS before. Does that mean that I’m on a terrorist watch list?

    If it’s the same guy who sued multiple airlines, he’s an idiot of truly epic proportions so he deserves whatever he gets.

  11. Another pathetic story that says absolutely jackshit. How do you even write such dribble? And now we should think you have any credibility? He got the SSSSS on his boarding pass like many of us have had, me at least twice. I am not on some terrorist watch list. You have zero proof here but some asswhat saying it happened. And if he was on a terrorist watchlist I doubt he would be allowed on the plan. Please get some facts before posting this shit.

  12. Being on the terrorist watchlist doesn’t prevent an American from flying anyway. They just get hit with a haraSSSSment flag on their boarding pass; and the TSA treats them as such.

    The terrorist watchlist is different than the terrorist no-fly list.

    Getting hit with a haraSSSSment flag on a domestic flight on a wholly domestic itinerary happens in a different way (and for different reasons) than getting hit with such haraSSSSment flag on the US-bound part of an international itinerary.

    The TSA’s haraSSSSment screenings of passengers in the US is much more sexual and intrusive than the TSA-demanded haraSSSSment screenings conducted outside of the US.

  13. @GUWonder — I’ve been randomly chosen to undergo “SSSS” enhanced screening more than once when overseas for my return flights to USA, and that process only involved more detailed inspections of my carry-ons along with some simple questions.

    So just curious — what are you suggesting as being more intensive “on the US-bound part of an international itinerary” with “TSA-demanded haraSSSSment screenings conducted outside of the US”? Perhaps the intensity of “SSSS” enhanced screenings conducted in different regions of the world might vary? I was returning from Asia at those times when I got randomly chosen.

    Generally … I do believe that those who fly often enough will, sooner or later, experience getting randomly “SSSS” checked as a matter of chance.

  14. Seems to be a major disconnect here. ‘SSSS’ on a boarding pass and Terrorist Watch List are not the same animal. But this is one of the ways they control us … speak out against the virus BS and we’ll cause you trouble. And so far, ‘they’ are doing really well controlling us. WHY are they controlling us? Because they CAN … bureaucrats and politicians have never had so much fun as the last 18 months.

  15. Yeah Gary come on man. We have all gotten SSSS a few times over the years. Doesn’t make us all on any terrorist watch list. Seriously.

  16. This sounds like more hysteria and of course anything about face masks has to be mentioned on this blog. Don’t see any proof he is on a terrorist watch list as that sounds rather far fetched. That code can be used for other reasons.

  17. StrictlyFacts, here is what I wrote”:

    “The TSA’s haraSSSSment screenings of passengers in the US is much more sexual and intrusive than the TSA-demanded haraSSSSment screenings conducted outside of the US.”

    So let’s revisit what I stated since there are two types of haraSSSSment screenings in play in my post:

    A. “The TSA’s haraSSSSment screenings of passengers in the US” are hands-on-passengers screenings done by the TSA employees.

    B. “TSA-demanded haraSSSSment screenings conducted outside of the US” are (generally) performed by foreign screeners who are not TSA employees but are being done under demands set by the TSA.

    Type A haraSSSSment screening is more intrusively performed than Type B haraSSSSment screening.

    The vast majority of Type B haraSSSment screenings of passengers is part of the TSA-demanded quotas set up for international flights headed to the US rather than as a result of passengers being on any standing US aviation-related watchlists. So between that and the limits of US authority abroad, it should be no surprise that Type B haraSSSSment screenings at foreign African, Asian/Pacific, European and South American airports are less sexual and intrusive in nature than Type A haraSSSSment screenings at US airports.

  18. UA-NYC,

    When was the last time you got a haraSSSSment hit on a domestic flight for a ticketed booking on a wholly US domestic itinerary? And what would be your answer to that same question if limiting the question to haraSSSSment hits during periods of time when you had not been to any Muslim-majority country in over a year before a haraSSSSment hit on a wholly domestic itinerary?

    I am curious if this Faris character has been in a Muslim-majority country within the past year before his haraSSSSment hit(s), if this is happening to him on wholly domestic itineraries, and if it’s happening to him even for domestic flights booked on the other major US airlines for wholly domestic itineraries.

  19. Huey Judy,

    Politicians and bureaucrats in the US have come under the worst domestic threats they’ve faced in generations as more and more Americans behave and believe like their vulgar, (dictator-loving) Lord Trump.

  20. I have only ever gotten the dreaded SSSS on international itineraries. I never would have thought GUWonder would be a civil libertarian. UA-CCP, of course, is all coercion, all the time.

  21. @cargocult – eat a d!ck, anti-vaxxer. hope you enjoyed your final trip to Italy! they don’t like your kind there. good riddance.

  22. @GUWonder —
    “Type A haraSSSSment screening is more intrusively performed than Type B haraSSSSment screening.”

    This is what I was wondering about, as the vast majority of my flying has been for business on international routes, so I don’t have direct knowledge on domestic “SSSS” random checks. But, as I had posted, those done overseas have been very straightforward … and very politely conducted!

  23. @UA-CCP

    I don’t wish to force you to behave according to my beliefs. That is some fundamentalist nonsense. Why do you want me to comply with your deranged progressive totalitarianism?

    Footloose and vaccine-free, I can roam Italy as I please while you are jumping boxes, dreaming of work trips and staying at the Park Hyatt Milan. U mad, bro?

  24. “but because it’s where they have the strongest claim to a legal basis along with other interstate transportation.”

    The mask mandate also, in a blatant violation of the 10th amendment, claims jurisdiction over entirely intrastate surface transportation such as subways, taxis, rideshares, public buses, and even school buses.

    Yet, surprisingly enough, no governor, state attorney general, school district*, or transportation provider has tried to challenge the mandate yet.
    *although I’m aware of multiple districts where face coverings are optional, even on buses.

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