Sierra stands for Stagger

It’s like another language – stagger, crawler and runner.

Which one are you? Or are you none of them?

you Last year I was introduced to the terms used by airport staff to categorise people who had called for assistance either on arrival at airports or between departure points.

Sierra stands for stagger. Romeo for runner and I think Charlie is the code word they used for crawler.

Even though my late husband had required wheelchair assistance in the final years when he was still able to travel, I had never come across these terms before.

It was whilst I was on the first of five trips away last year that I smashed my foot, even before we got to Cork airport.

A minibus with broken side doors, no step to help access the back door of the vehicle, necessitated the assistance of the six foot plus driver to help five foot and a bit me climb on. My right left boarded upright and my left leg, even with me being pulled aboard by this giant of a man, just couldn’t make it and buckled in a heap under me.

I couldn’t speak as the tearing of ligaments, tendons and every other piece of me inside my foot broke free and fought for space as they ripped and began to swell and contort.

I limped throughout my journey and two flights to Marrakech and spent the first few days on a roof top sun lounger elevating my foot. We travelled to Rabat and back and I gamely carried on wincing as I went.

Things and my foot did not improve and eventually medical advice was to request assistance when travelling.

It was in Gatwick airport where I first heard the phrase, ‘I have two Sierras’ used.

A Romeo can walk, maybe not very far which is why they would need help in one of the golf cart type vehicles to cover the distance, often a couple of miles, between departure gates. A Sierra, a stagger, can walk a bit and can climb the stairs to enter the plane. But a crawler will need wheelchair assistance and probably need to be hoisted on to a platform within a vehicle which raises to allow level access into the plane.

I was grateful for the service throughout the time my foot took to heal – some ten months.

I met lots of interesting people during the time I waited in the assisted passenger area, people with all levels of abilities.

I experienced a whirlwind wheelchair journey at breakneck speed through the huge and magnificent Dubai airport. A medical emergency on arrival was dealt with by paramedics before anyone was allowed to leave the flight to carry on to the next stage of the journey.

And I was in danger of missing my connection but my wheelchair driver got me there in plenty time.

People are generally very polite and agreeable when they see someone in a wheelchair and will step back and out of the way. What they don’t do is look at you. It’s as if you are from another planet or perhaps they are worried that your lack of mobility might be infectious?

I met a gorgeous jolly black lady who was quite elderly. We were sitting patiently waiting for wheelchairs to take us through to the departure gates and she listed all the trips she had made even within the first three months of the year. She was a seasoned traveller.

She had sold her house and was spending the proceeds travelling between all her extended family. ‘I travel light and I am keeping going until the money runs out,’ she confided. ‘There will be nothing left for my family to fight over,’ she giggled. ‘And I am enjoying life!’

There’s a moral in there somewhere for all of us.

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