Yyou’ve just arrived on the Flight Deck. You’re already behind schedule, and you have to get the aircraft ready to go for the next flight. The passengers are already filing on board, and the flight attendants are finishing their duties.

All that is left is your preparation up front.

The Pressure!

You dive into the left seat, adjust it by sliding forward, and your hands and eyes start to dance around the panel in a harmonious flurry of checks.

Switches flipping, knobs turning, and keys blazing on the CDU- you know our stuff.
Recently I’ve received a lot of reaction to a specific topic that I think is worth clarifying:

Flows vs Checklists

I want to go through my personal definition on flows and checklists. Some is opinion, some is ‘fact’, but most of it is useful.

I’ll go through the “What, Why, and How” of each.



A flow is a basic methodology for running through system checks and setup of the aircraft in varying phases of flight.

Using an analogy from water, a flow is to be ‘fluid’ movement, like a waterfall, down or across the panels in a specific direction and purpose. It’s meant to be a muscle memory way to setup the aircraft.


The purpose of the flows is to have a way to run through all the checks of the aircraft without having to run through an actual, multi-hundred point checklist. Flows are to be memorized mostly by muscle memory, and kept at least semi-congruent in their execution.


Once you have memorized a flow, as many learn to do with our 737NGX Training and other training products, it is then executed from then on out from memory.

A flow does not have to be exactly the same thing every time. Chances are, you’ll be jumping around from one thing to another, getting a radio call here or interacting with the cabin crew there.

The point is to keep the basic structure of the flow intact, and when needs be, change it up to fit your current situation. There are far too many variables in the flows to have them be exactly the same every time.

Flows are incredibly useful for knowing how to quickly setup the aircraft during different phases of flight operations. The crew can speed through things, much like the scenario I started off with in this post, yet still safely and comprehensively setup the aircraft.

Heck, we will teach you flows- but honestly, you can create your own ‘flows’ as a pilot. Something you feel works for you, and gets the job done.

Again, ‘flows aren’t gospel’ as I’ve been known to say many times.



A short list of essential items that must be checked for flight safety. Only items critical to flight safety are on these lists.

Unlike flows which many be hundreds of steps long in some cases, the checklists are short and to the point. They do not cover everything. Only those items that are completely essential. In other words, requirements.


When a crew is pushing a schedule, and trying to make money for their respective airline or charter, being on time is essential. These few items ensure that, although the crew may not have done their setup flows absolutely perfect, or will have made discretionary decisions to omit items from the flows for the sake of time saving, safety of flight is maintained.


Checklists, again, are required items. The items are generally completed already with flows. Items are then ‘checked’ off the list, confirming that they are done.

Let me clarify here.

This is NOT a “Do” list. You don’t look at the item, and perform that step.

It’s a “Check” list. You’re checking the work that you’ve already done.

Here, with checklists, there is no room for interpretation. In rare cases where airline SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) differ from manufacturer procedures (Boeing, Airbus or otherwise), items may be changed and modified.

Once set in stone, which requires the approval from the governing agency (FAA in the US, CAA, JAA in other parts of the world) they are to be followed with exactness.


Flows can be rushed, checklists cannot. Steps can be omitted in flows, steps cannot be omitted in checklists.

Keep in mind that any time a pilot is rushing through items, there’s a very good chance that mistakes will be made. It’s never wise to truly rush through everything, and I’m not suggesting you do so. I’m simply saying it’s essential you know the different between the two.

I would find it to be a safety issue if you suddenly felt you needed to treat flows as ‘checklists’. If flows were treated as checklists, you’d suddenly be taking your mind off of all important situational awareness, and spending it worried about things that won’t mean your doom.

Suffice it to say, however, that airlines are there to make money. Their pilots carry the passengers, and make critical decisions daily to get passengers there on time- at the least cost possible- while building brand quality and keeping with standards.

It’s not an easy duty. Airline pilots have a lot of things to juggle. Flows and checklists are just a few of them, but these items are directly related to flight safety. And nothing will screw up a pilots reputation faster than an accident or incident, caused by his/her unsafe decision making.

Find your balance, and keep a good head on your shoulders. Learn your flows, and your checklists. Follow the checklists with exactness.


How do you use checklists and flows? What is your philosophy and personal standard?

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