x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 October 2017

Dubai resident's record-breaking flight around the world

Gil Azevedo, a Portuguese banker living in Dubai, has broken the world record for flying around the world using scheduled flights

Gil Azevedo in Shanghai, at the start of his epic round-the-world trip.
Gil Azevedo in Shanghai, at the start of his epic round-the-world trip.

In an echo of the Portuguese explorers who conquered the New World in the 1400s, Gil Azevedo takes record-breaking in his stride. The 40-year-old Dubai resident has become the fastest person to fly around the world using scheduled aircraft. Azevedo, from Lisbon, entered the Guinness Book of World Records after flying from Shanghai to Auckland, Buenos Aires, Paris, Moscow and back to Shanghai in 55 hours 47 minutes.

The feat broke the previous record set by a British monk called Michael Bartlett, who did a similar trip in 57 hours and 27 minutes last year. Prior to that, the record had not been broken since 1995.

Azevedo, a banker with Emirates Islamic, says he first became interested in the challenge after reading Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, and researching what effect technological advances had had on the trip since the book’s publication in 1873. “Also, here in Dubai, we keep hearing about all these records being broken, so I decided to see if it was possible.”

Breaking a world record comes with rules and regulations, as Azevedo found. He was attempting the “approximate antipodal” record, which meant a minimum distance travelled of 40,000 kilometres, or within 75km of the world’s actual circumference, involving two approximately opposite points, in this case Buenos Aires and Shanghai. “I looked at many different combinations and compared them and realised I was able to design the route this way and take time off the record,” he says. “I had to go through a lot of different combinations.”

Once he had planned his trip, there was a 12-week wait to hear back from Guinness World Records. “I got the go-ahead one day before I left,” says Azevedo, who departed on 12 February this year. With five long-haul flights back-to back, he left Shanghai at 2.30am and arrived back there at 10.15am on February 14. Each flight had a connection time of between 90 minutes and 3 hours. “It was very tight in Moscow because the flight from Paris was circling for 90 minutes in a snowstorm before landing,” he says. “Luckily, my final flight from there to Shanghai was also delayed.”

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Tiredness was by far the most difficult thing Azevedo had to put up with. As well as being constantly on the move, every stage of the trip had to be documented, to comply with the competition rules. “At every airport and on every flight I had to get witnesses, and every two hours on the trip I had to take photos and videos. I never slept more than two hours because I was constantly getting up and down to talk to the air stewardesses. It was very, very tiring.”

Some relief came from the fact that Azevedo used a combination of frequent flier miles and cash to pay for the flights, which included an upgrade on the middle leg from Buenos Aires to Paris. The airlines used were Air New Zealand, Air France and Aeroflot. “Air New Zealand helped me out because when they found out what I was doing they gave me a whole row to myself,” he says.

A keen traveller who has visited 61 countries and worked in Europe, New York and Angola as well as the UAE, Azevedo says his favourite country is the United States and his favourite cities are New York and Cape Town, but he is using his time in Dubai to explore Asia. “You can explore Europe when you’re living here but the great thing about living here is that you’re halfway to Asia,” he says. “Here we can use the full network of Emirates and Etihad to a lot of new places.”

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In terms of travel tips, Azevedo said he recommended mixing and matching miles from different frequent flier programmes to maximise benefits, and buying and transferring miles from other travellers and friends and family. Sometimes miles earned with one airline went further when used on another.

He says: "If flying overnight on long flights, I usually take a pillow with me, as the ones supplied in the plane are much less comfortable. I keep a scan copy of important documents (passport, drivers licence) in my email in case of emergency. I also use a debit card to with draw foreign currency at the destination rather than exchanging cash at the airport, and I use Skype to do local calls."

So will Azevedo, like Vasco da Gama, who led the first naval fleet around Africa to India in 1498 and Pedro Alvares Cabral, the first European to visit Brazil – be setting out to break any more records soon? He sighs at the thought of it. “After the 55 hours I was completely exhausted,” he says. “But it felt good.”