Disabled Beyoncé Fan Misses Concert After Airline Can’t Load his Wheelchair on the Plane


Jon Hetherington has been a Beyoncé fan for 25 years. He has been supporting the singer since her beginnings in Destiny’s Child, when he was only 9 years old. Therefore, when the opportunity arose to see his favorite artist perform live in Seattle as part of her Renaissance World Tour, he didn’t think twice before purchasing a plane ticket.

However, when he arrived at the airport, he was gutted to learn that he couldn’t board the plane, given that his electric wheelchair was four inches too tall and couldn’t be accommodated on the aircraft.

Image credits: liberatedbygaga

Jon, who lives in Oregon and has cerebral palsy, ended up missing the show as a result of what he calls the “systemic issue” of ableism.

“The guy at the counter filled out this form, and it basically said, like, ‘your wheelchair exceeded the requirements to be able to fly, and we did everything we could to address this and resolve the issue, and we couldn’t,’” Hetherington shared during an interview with Insider.

The only solution Alaska Airlines provided was another flight that would get him to his destination 12 hours too late.

Following the incident, the 34-year-old took to TikTok to expose the situation. “Got to the airport to take my flight, and they tell me that my chair is apparently four inches too tall to be loaded on the plane,” Hetherington said in the viral video, which has been viewed more than 85,000 times.

“They checked every possible flight, every airline, and nothing is available. So, after 25 years of waiting, I’m not seeing Beyonce tonight. So ableism strikes again,” he said.

According to Jon, his wheelchair was “4 inches too big” to fit onto the plane, which led to him missing the show he’s been waiting his entire life

Image credits: Raph_PH

After the video went viral, Beyoncé stans—known as the BeyHive—began showing their support and tagging the Drunk In Love singer and her management in the hope that someone from her team would contact him.

Eventually, they did. Representatives of the singer offered Hetherington tickets to see Queen Bey in Arlington, Texas, and paid for his transportation.

“I’m really grateful and very much appreciate that this is happening,” Jon told the New York Times.

The pop music lover said that the issue with Alaska Airlines wasn’t related to that company in particular, stating that the situation was “bigger than one airline.”

In fact, he described that gate attendants offered help and repeatedly tried to get his wheelchair to collapse. Still, that didn’t matter, as the wheelchair’s measurements were not allowed on the airplane.

The airline, which refunded Jon’s flight, issued a statement that read, “We feel terrible about our guest’s travel experience with us. We’re always aiming to do better as we encounter situations such as this one.”

Additionally, the company explained that its Boeing planes have dimension limitations and can’t load certain electric wheelchairs into the cargo hold.

“Well, guess I’m not going to Seattle and I’m not seeing Beyonce,” he said in a viral TikTok video viewed over 85,000 times

Image credits: liberatedbygaga

According to Jani Nayar, the executive director of the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality, airlines are not required to observe the Air Carrier Access Act if a passenger’s wheelchair doesn’t fit.

“I’ve been disabled since birth, ableism is a feature of my life, I’m used to it,” Jon said. “I can’t even do the ‘normal thing’ of booking concerts and having this experience. Everybody else can just do that. That’s what’s frustrating.”

But that wasn’t the first time that he had been a victim of ableism in his everyday life. Two weeks before the missed concert, the 34-year-old encountered several problems when he attended a Janelle Monáe concert at WuMu Theater in Seattle.

Not only was his flight delayed for 20 minutes to load his wheelchair, but he was also left to wait for a taxi that never arrived to pick him up after the show.

When he called his trusted taxi service to get him an accessible taxi, he was told that a vehicle would soon come to collect him. Sadly, that time never came.

After seeing his story on social media, Beyoncé’s team contacted Heatherington, offered him new tickets for a show in Texas, and paid for his transportation

Image credits: liberatedbygaga

“I called for an accessible taxi an hour ago. I’ve been waiting here, the area has completely cleared out. It’s literally 1:22 in the morning, and I’m the only one here. Ableism is real, and it f***ing sucks,” he said while recording himself for a TikTok video.

After waiting for hours, he found himself wandering around Seattle until 9 AM. He couldn’t go back to his hotel, as his phone’s GPS function wasn’t working. Eventually, once his electric wheelchair lost power, a friend’s father was able to come to the rescue.

Hetherington was taken to another hotel, where he asked a friend to send him a wheelchair charger using Amazon. Ultimately, he made it to the airport and charged his chair again to prepare it for the landing in Oregon.

The music lover hopes to use his social media exposure to spread awareness of the challenges people with a disability face

@liberatedbygaga Ableism strikes again. After waing 25 years, I’m not seeing @Beyoncé tonight #beyonce #renaissance #renaissanceworldtour #rwt2023 #ableism #fyp #foryoupage ♬ original sound – Jon
@liberatedbygaga Our society is built to exclude disabled people #beyonce #rwt2023 #renaissanceworldtour #disabled #disability #fyp #foryoupage ♬ original sound – Jon

The music fan hopes to use his social media exposure to spread awareness of the several challenges people with a disability face and put an end to ableism. 

“I’ve always said unless you yourself are disabled or you directly know somebody that you are very close to, it’s always out of sight, out of mind. We might as well be invisible until society wants us to be an inspiration, until there’s like some feel-good story that able-bodied people can read and make themselves feel better,” he said.

“We never think about the day-to-day challenges. I don’t get to have that luxury. I never have.”

People in the comments expressed their support for Heatherington’s cause

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