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New flights to Cuba allowed in new pact; Delta to file for service

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A flower salesman pushes his cart down a street in Havana. While the Internet is essential for today's business, Cuba still has some of the worst Internet access in the world.

United States and Cuban officials met in Havana on Tuesday morning to sign a deal enabling scheduled airline flights between the two countries for the first time in more than 50 years.

Delta said it will file with the U.S. government to operate non-stop flights to Cuba, including from Atlanta to Havana.

“Filing for service to Havana is an important moment in aviation history for Delta and between the U.S. and Cuba,” Delta’s vice president for Latin America Nicolas Ferri said in a written statement. “We look forward to providing access to the island from the U.S.,” he added.

That would allow Delta’s return to Cuba after operating charter flights to the country in 2011 and 2012. It discontinued the flights amid weak demand.

Last summer, Delta operated a one-off charter flight transporting the Minnesota Orchestra to Cuba.

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport said in a written statement that it is “always looking to expand into emerging markets.”

The Atlanta airport said it is “uniquely situated to facilitate flights with our partner airlines to Cuba.  We look forward to this opportunity.”

Airlines have been able to offer charter flights for Americans to travel to Cuba under certain circumstances, including “people-to-people” education exchanges with a sponsoring organization.

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A woman walks in Old Havana on Sunday, June 28, 2015. (KATIE LESLIE / KLESLIE@AJC.COM)

The new agreement will allow U.S. airlines to fly up to 110 scheduled flights a day between the United States and Cuba, including 20 between the United States and Havana. U.S. airlines can now apply to operate scheduled flights, and the DOT said it “intends to reach a final decision as expeditiously as possible.”

But U.S. visitors to Cuba must still qualify under one of 12 categories authorized by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. Of note: Travelers will be allowed to use U.S. credit and debit cards.

Delta’s outgoing CEO Richard Anderson last year said Delta would resume flights to Cuba and launch scheduled service when allowed, but that it wouldn’t be a “game-changer.”

In addition to the charter flights Delta operated three years ago, Delta also served Cuba from 1953 to 1961.

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