Abbey Victor Kovens, travel agent
He set a record flying around the world and later aided Soviet dissidents
Abbey Victor Kovens, a Baltimore travel agent who during the 1970s circled the world in record time, earning him a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records, died of complications from heart disease at his Owings Mills home. He was 67. (Baltimore Sun / February 13, 2012)
He was 67.
The son of a vending machine manufacturing executive and a homemaker, he was a cousin of the late Baltimore political kingmaker Irv Kovens.
Mr. Kovens, who never used his first name, was born in Baltimore and raised near Mondawmin and later in the Strathmore Park neighborhood in Northwest Baltimore.
After graduating from City College in 1963, he attended the University of Cincinnati for two years. He earned a bachelor's degree in transportation in 1967 from the University of Baltimore.
Mr. Kovens went to work after college as a sales agent in Philadelphia for the old Trans World Airlines, and it was while working for the airline that he and another employee, Frank Barbehenn, decided in 1975 to circle the world by commercial airliner.
The two men had to meet two criteria that had been established by Norris McWhirter, editor of the London-based Guinness Book of World Records: The flight would have to cover at least the distance around the equator: 24,920 miles. And it would have to involve two points that are exactly on opposite sides of the world.
"After much study, we found that about the only such points — with commercial airports — were Lima, Peru, and Bangkok, Thailand," Mr. Kovens told The Evening Sun at the time.
At 12:20 p.m. May 16, after a nine-hour flight from Philadelphia, the two men boarded a plane in Lima and flew to Bangkok.
At 12:40 a.m. May 22, they arrived back home after a trip in which they were in the air 47 hours, 48 minutes and seven seconds, reported The Evening Sun.
Both Mr. Kovens and his partner had planned their trip to cover 25,006 miles but had to make a 600-mile detour to avoid flying over Vietnam and Cambodia, then engulfed in war.
"The detour contributed to our failure to break a nonofficial total-elapsed-time record of 61 hours and 15 minutes, but that one isn't a very legitimate one, according to Mr. McWhirter," Mr. Kovens said. "It was set in a round trip between London and Sydney, Australia, and isn't even listed in the Guinness book."
During their odyssey, the two fliers made nine stops on their 25,606-mile trip, changed planes four times, and traveled at an average speed of 535.7 mph.
The cost of the trip would have been $2,570 for a regular traveler but because of their airline connections, they were able to accomplish it at considerably less cost.
In June 1975, the two were officially notified by Mr. McWhirter that their accomplishment would be listed in that year's October edition of the Guinness Book of World Records.
Their record was subsequently broken.
Mr. Kovens returned to Baltimore in 1975, when he established a travel agency that booked cruises.
For years, Mr. Kovens operated International Group Cruises Inc. in the Pikesville Hilton, and in recent years, ran the business from his Owings Mills home.
"Victor saw that there was a good future in cruises, even though at the time, the industry was in its infancy," said a brother, Michael Kovens, who lives in Pikesville.