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A Beyoncé fan couldn't fly to a show due to his wheelchair size, so he told TikTok

Jon Hetherington, 34, from Oregon, originally planned to attend the Seattle show of Beyoncé's Renaissance World Tour, but couldn't fly because his wheelchair exceeded the plane's cargo dimensions. He posted about the saga on TikTok and a representative for Beyoncé arranged for him to attend her Dallas show.
Jon Hetherington
Jon Hetherington, 34, from Oregon, originally planned to attend the Seattle show of Beyoncé's Renaissance World Tour, but couldn't fly because his wheelchair exceeded the plane's cargo dimensions. He posted about the saga on TikTok and a representative for Beyoncé arranged for him to attend her Dallas show.

TikTok successfully got in formation to get a fan to Beyoncé's Renaissance World Tour.

Jon Hetherington was supposed to fly to Seattle last week for a Beyoncé concert, but he couldn't complete the flight because his wheelchair was too tall, which meant he would miss the show.

He posted the dilemma on TikTok, and hundreds of the social platform's users began tagging Beyoncé and Parkwood Entertainment, her production and entertainment company. A representative for the singer reached out to him and soon he was on his way to see her perform in Texas.

The 34-year-old Oregon resident was pictured with Beyoncéat Thursday's Dallas show.

"To the queen herself @beyonce, I will treasure those words you said and the hugs you gave," he wrote on Instagram. "I meant every word I said. No, for anyone and everyone reading this, I will not ever share with you what was said to me, don't even try it. That moment is between the two of us."

Hetherington has cerebral palsy, and said that while he was at Oregon's Eugene Airport last Thursday everything proceeded as normal at first. An Alaska Airlines employee examined his ID and tagged his wheelchair, and even remembered him because had flown flew to Seattle two weeks earlier to see singer Janelle Monáe kick off their tour, he told NPR.

The employee remembered Hetherington's chair needed some extra finagling, which Hetherington said delayed the earlier flight about 20 minutes, but he was not alerted of any other issues.

This time around, Hetherington said an airline employee told him his chair was four inches too tall, then moved him out of his chair and attempted to collapse it, to no avail, while another employee looked online for information about the chair. He was finally given a complaint resolution form and told only an Airbus plane would be able to fit his wheelchair.

Frustrated at the airport, he turned to TikTok

But they did not find any available Airbus flights that would get him there in time for the show. So he went to TikTok.

"Well, guess I'm not going to see Seattle, and I'm not seeing Beyoncé," he said in the video. "So after 25 years of waiting, I'm not seeing Beyoncé tonight, so ableism strikes again."

"I went outside and I was just pissed. I was demoralized at that point," Hetherington told NPR. "I have about 22,000 followers on TikTok and I usually get about a couple hundred views on my videos, so I thought, 'OK, a couple hundred people will see it.' I never in a billion lifetimes would have thought that this whole thing would have taken off like it did."

The video was watched more than 90,000 times. Hetherington and Alaska Airlines said his airline ticket has been refunded.

"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," Alaska Airlines said in a statement. "Our Boeing [aircraft] have dimension limitations when it comes to loading battery-powered mobility aids, like a wheelchair, into the cargo hold."

According to Alaska Airlines, its Boeing planes can fit wheelchairs that are a maximum of 34 inches high, while Airbus aircraft can fit ones up to 46 inches.

Although not required, the airlines said it recommends people with mobility aids put in a special service request to determine ahead of their flight if their aid can be accommodated.

Why he's such a big Beyoncé fan

Hetherington, who is pansexual, said he has been a Beyoncé fan since he was 9 years old.

He said he admires that she is paying homageto the LGBTQ+ community with her Renaissance album, amid passed and potential U.S. legislation that would prohibit youth from receiving gender-affirming care,bar bookswith LGBTQ+ subject matter from public libraries and ban transgender students from using bathrooms matching the gender they identify with.

"She is probably, I would say, the most famous Black woman in the world, and for her to use that stature, that power and authority to lift up — specifically now — the queer community ... is no small thing," Hetherington said.

But despite the happy ending, he said the incident is indicative of a bigger issue.

After the Monáe concert, he couldn't find a taxi that was wheelchair-friendly, leaving him stranded in the streets of Seattle from midnight to 9 a.m. The battery of his wheelchair died at 8 a.m., he said.

"This is not about a concert," he said. "This is not about one artist. This is not about one airline. This is about systemic issues of ableism that are happening every day. Disabled people are dealing with this in society, in general, and our society has been built to exclude disabled people. That's what's important."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Ayana Archie