Inside easyJet's new control centre and discovering there's less chance of a cancellation if schoolkids are on a plane, how Brexit has made delays more likely - and we try scheduling flights for a day...

At the control centre 250 specialists work 24/7 managing 340 easyJet aircraft  The budget airline flies 300,000 customers to 35 countries and 155 airports  The new Control Centre uses brand-new Artificial Intelligence systems  READ MORE: Flight experts reveal how to stay safe on a plane during turbulence

Budget airline easyJet, which operates 1,950 flights every day in peak season, opened its brand-new Integrated Control Centre (ICC) this week – and we had a sneak peek behind the doors.

Those inside manage 340 aircraft and make the big decisions about who to delay - and which groups receive maximum protection from disruption, such as school children and easyJet Holiday passengers.

The managers also marshal a complex staffing schedule, which they reveal has been made more difficult in the wake of Brexit regulations.

Plus, we had the chance to try our hand at running an easyJet flight schedule – in the face of a faulty plane taking a route out of action. It wasn't easy.

The new ICC sits just outside the Luton Airport compound so that if an incident occurs - like last year's car park fire - it can continue to run.

The ICC (above) is filled with four 'pods' - covering Gatwick, rest of UK, the EU and 'the Swiss' - plus a senior team occupying a separate desk

The ICC (above) is filled with four 'pods' - covering Gatwick, rest of UK, the EU and 'the Swiss' - plus a senior team occupying a separate desk

Senior operations officer Aaishah is in charge of monitoring every flight that lands and takes off - plus any disruption that occurs

Senior operations officer Aaishah is in charge of monitoring every flight that lands and takes off - plus any disruption that occurs

The building has myriad new features from dark desks to save the night crew's eyes, individual lighting, huge displays and... much to their joy, windows (the previous office 'felt like a casino', according to Gill, Director of Network Control).

The control centre is split in two: the Integrated Control Centre (ICC) and the Maintenance Control Centre (MCC).

The ICC is filled with four 'pods' - covering Gatwick, rest of UK, the EU and 'the Swiss' - plus a senior team occupying a separate desk.

Senior operations officer Aaishah is in charge of monitoring every flight that lands and takes off - plus any disruption that occurs.

'Lorry drivers can only drive for a certain number of hours - it's the same for flight crew.' 
 Jen, easyJet Senior Crewing Officer

Weather can put a spanner in the works, but she revealed that easyJet has its own dedicated Met Office scientists at the end of a phone to tell her how long inclement weather will last to help with this.

Aaishah also has to ensure planes can get to maintenance hangars on time - even one cancelled engine change costs £10,000.

Next up was the crewing team, where Senior Crewing Officers Jen and Adam balance the needs of around 15,000 crew.

Around 22 per cent of all easyJet crew are on standby at once, waiting to fill in for sick or overworked staff.

Legal rest times are one reason why flights are delayed.

If a journey is delayed, the crew onboard may need a longer rest period before flying again, meaning their next scheduled duty needs a new crew.

Senior Crewing Officers Jen and Adam (sitting above) balance the needs of around 15,000 crew members

Senior Crewing Officers Jen and Adam (sitting above) balance the needs of around 15,000 crew members

New high-tech systems have been woven into the new ICC (above), including an artificial intelligence program designed by easyJet dubbed 'Jetstream'

New high-tech systems have been woven into the new ICC (above), including an artificial intelligence program designed by easyJet dubbed 'Jetstream'

The team noted that all crew, from pilots to flight attendants, have to live within 90 minutes of the airport to ensure that they can reach it in ample time.

Jen explained to MailOnline: 'Lorry drivers can only drive for a certain number of hours - it's the same for flight crew.'

Crewing issues have become more complicated in the wake of Brexit, leading to more flight delays.

Post-Brexit, if a flight is registered to the EU it can only be manned by EU staff - and easyJet can't use any standby UK crew to fill the gaps. If all EU standby crew have been used up, then the flight will be delayed.

Also in the ICC is the customer disruption team.

These are the folks who choose which flights to delay or cancel - and who you are flying alongside can decide whether you get to your destination on time.

A large, complicated screen using a programme called 'disco' shows which flights are scheduled for the day, who is on board and which flights need a new plane or new crew.

Mark, Senior Customer Disruption Officer, said that certain 'special interest' groups are prioritised, including reduced mobility passengers, easyJet Holiday groups, repatriated passengers (that's people who have already been delayed) and school trip groups.

The reason the latter are a priority is that oftentimes school trips will not have enough adults to supervise the children overnight in a hotel booked by easyJet for those with cancelled flights.

Other considerations when deciding to delay include the number of hotel rooms available and seats to the same destination within the next 48 hours.

New high-tech systems have been woven into the new ICC including an artificial intelligence program designed by easyJet dubbed 'Jetstream'.

This compiles the information kept in eight large manuals onto one system, making the control room speedier at making decisions.

Gill explained: 'We've fed in thousands and thousands of pages from eight different manuals and now we can just ask it a question and it will spit out an answer.'

Even the crew will be able to use Jetstream to search for answers - instead of flooding the ICC with calls (they see 35,000 crew calls each month currently).

The MCC makes up the other half of the complex - where 26 licensed engineers make sure every aircraft is safe to fly.

The Maintenance Control Centre (MCC, above) will soon be joining the ICC in using AI, with a new system able to pull up previous reports to cross reference with ongoing issues

The Maintenance Control Centre (MCC, above) will soon be joining the ICC in using AI, with a new system able to pull up previous reports to cross reference with ongoing issues

The MCC (above) makes up one half of the complex - where 26 licensed engineers make sure every aircraft is safe to fly

The MCC (above) makes up one half of the complex - where 26 licensed engineers make sure every aircraft is safe to fly

Jim, Maintenance Operations Duty Manager - and former army helicopter engineer - oversees the 24-hour operation.

His workload includes scheduling maintenance hangar appointments in Luton, Gatwick, Berlin, Geneva and Milan and ensuring aircraft spend the night in maintenance every 750 cycles (flight hours).

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The MCC will soon be joining the ICC in using AI, with a new system able to pull up previous reports to cross reference with ongoing issues.

Jim noted: 'We are very heavily regulated, at the end of the day the tool that we're looking at using will show you the source. It will look at the information around it and use its own learning. You then use your own knowledge to make judgements.'

Those of us on the tour not only got to look behind the scenes, but to take part in a 'disruption game'.

We were shown a large board denoting the day's schedule - flights that had departed, those scheduled to fly, the planes available and when they had to go in for maintenance or repairs, along with the crew schedules and hours already worked.

The grinning ICC staff then informed us we had a scenario to deal with: 40 schoolchildren are set to board a flight at Milan Malpensa Airport bound for London Gatwick, but the plane is discovered to be faulty, and a standby EU aircraft that's ready to replace it has no crew.

Unfortunately, no EU staff are available on standby to man the flight, only Brits - which is useless post-Brexit.

How would you fix the schedule?

MailOnline Travel took part in a 'disruption game' - can we rework a schedule to get 40 schoolkids home to London from Milan after their plane breaks down?

MailOnline Travel took part in a 'disruption game' - can we rework a schedule to get 40 schoolkids home to London from Milan after their plane breaks down?

My team eventually, correctly, decided to delay domestic passengers scheduled to board two flights from Milan to Brindisi, and instead use these planes and their crew to get the priority groups home to London.

The crew can then return and work on the delayed flights to Brindisi Airport in Southern Italy.

As the delayed flights are domestic, short journeys, the crew have the time left in their legal working hours to staff them, ensuring everyone gets home that night.

I discovered how quickly delays can rack up and pass onto other flyers when every consideration is taken into account.

I might just grumble less now when I see the time change on the departures board.

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