Flying into Cuba


Above: Encore Jets CEO Christopher Bannister

First of all, what is Encore Jets?

Christopher Bannister: We’re a full service private aviation company. We specialize in on-demand private jet charter, but also service individual and corporate clients on aircraft acquisitions and management. My business partner and I both have extensive experience in the industry, yet we are the youngest and fastest private aviation startup in this space.

In business for less than a year, our offices are at WeWork Times Square, New York. It’s our mission to provide clients with full transparency and flexibility, and a bespoke, hassle-free experience. Our members have wholesale access to charter pricing directly from thousands of private jet owners and operators without the varying markups, hidden costs and fees that are associated with chartering a private aircraft. We provide the best real-time pricing in the private jet charter world, and the highest level of service.

Is it tough being a startup in this industry?

Sami Belbase: It’s pretty cutthroat, but the barriers of entry aren’t that high. You don’t need a license to sell charter or aircraft. The main challenge isn’t entering the industry, but rather being able to remain competitive and grow within the market. Our competitive advantage is clear and unique; we offer wholesale pricing in real time directly from aircraft operators and owners worldwide. No other company uses this pricing model or level of real-time access.

                   Above: Encore Jets president Sami Belbase

Was it always part of the plan to fly to Cuba?

SB: Cuba has been on the radar for years now, and is more attractive right now than ever. We’ve found that a major trend from our clients today is the desire to explore destinations in transition. Cuba is transforming, so by going there now they can partake and experience a Cuba that won’t be around later on.

Are there any restrictions or challenges involved?

SB: We never saw any challenges in flying to Cuba. Our company serves over 2,200 airports worldwide, and some have limited and exclusive operations. We aren’t talking about landing on an isolated island with a grass runway here – Havana is a major international airport, and is accessible given the appropriate standards of conduct.

There are travel regulations to consider regarding the nationalities and visas of our customers, especially Americans, but our travel concierge and partnership with International Expeditions makes the process easier and convenient. It’s all about having the right partners and relationships; our partnership brings a level of synergy and value that is unparalleled in the luxury travel market of Cuba.

Where do you fly to Cuba from?

SB: We’re working with all of the major international airport hubs that currently fly into Cuba. This includes New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston and more. Cuba only allows aircraft registered from certain countries to enter its airspace, and the demand is greater than the amount of aircraft available to do these trips. Every day, it seems that more private jets are being registered and permitted into the country. Our clients typically book their trips to Cuba at least two weeks in advance to ensure the perfect aircraft and get their regulatory paperwork in order.

Do you arrange itineraries for customers during their stay?

SB: Absolutely. We not only specialize in on-demand private jet charter but also operate as a full private aviation company and travel agency. We’ve just introduced Encore Getaways, which are one-of a kind private jet excursions involving private jets, luxury villas and yachts, and curated itineraries for unique destinations. Our Discover Cuba program starts at US$30,000 for a group of six travelers.

Each client is different, so we take a qualitative approach to being their lifestyle and travel consultants to craft the perfect itinerary for them. From arranging private rum tastings at master distilleries to zip-lining through the tropical inland forests, we not only arrange these activities but we are able to advise and orchestrate a full trip.

The other programs within Encore Getaways include Secrets of Southeast Asia, French Polynesia Excursion and Around the World. This is a fully customized luxury travel voyage around the globe, all by private jet.

How do you see your business growing?

CB: We’re currently developing our technologies and exploring new ways to innovate the market, bringing this real-time worldwide market access to clients at a tap of their finger. Soon we will have a way for a private jet charter to cost as much as a first class ticket; it’s a market that is economizing and evolving. We’re always looking to expand, and Cuba is a great opportunity in the right direction for us.

More info at

February 27, 2017

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Kirstie worked full-time on Business Airport International for over two years and is now a freelance journalist. Away from her writing commitments, you will find her blogging on her lifestyle website or training for her next charity run.

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