3 Things Every Pilot Needs to Know About… Rental Checkout Flights

There comes a time when pilots spread there wings in new places. Sometimes this is done by taking a plane and going on a long journey… The other option is renting an airplane while you are away on a trip! What better way to experience a new place than with aviation?


Experiencing a new place from the air is just one of the “cool” things a pilot can do!


One of the key questions I would listen for while talking to a perspective student was something along the lines of, “Is renting an airplane like renting a car?” This question illustrates that the individual is clearly thinking about the utility of having a pilot’s license. That is what the prospect needs to be sold on, having a license as opposed to learning to fly. Sure, learning to fly is a rewarding experience, but ultimately students learn to fly so they can gain a license… The rewarding nature of the training acts as motivation to continue the training when the students reach the inevitable plateau every pilot-in-training eventually meets…

Back to the prospect’s question, yes renting a plane is like renting a car, with a couple of differences:

  1. You aren’t likely to be able to walk into a flight school and take a plane by simply filling out a short form or registering online, a check flight will be required… Open Airplane is improving this though. However, a checkout flight is still required before a pilot is able to rent in general, yet one is not required for each aircraft rental in a different location.
  1. Flight schools haven’t caught up to the rental car industry. Have you ever rented a car? If yes, then you know that one of the questions you are always asked is if you’d like to pay the extra money for “full coverage” insurance… Many drivers carry policies which cover them if they rent cars, so many car renters decline this option. In any event, aviation as I said, hasn’t caught up to the automotive industry on this one. (The vast majority of) Flight schools require renters to bring their own insurance to the game, they don’t have a policy to offer, besides the policy which protects the airplane (often not the renter)…

So let’s take a look at the 3 things every pilot should know about the big bad rental checkout…

  1. Insurance.

As I explained above, “renters” insurance is often required, and honestly, even if it isn’t required it is a good thing to have to protect yourself! It is worthwhile to ensure that you are adequately covered and your policy meets the requirements of the flight school from which you’ll be renting an airplane during your visit. A simple check of the flight school’s website or even a quick phone call is all that is needed to gather the necessary information.

Renters insurance is coverage for you. The flight school will have insurance on the airplane, unless they are crazy… But if something were to happen, their coverage likely does little to nothing to protect you. Even if the flight school’s insurance does cover what happens, there is also no protection for you from having the flight school’s insurance company come after you during the aftermath…

It’s kind of a drag when you complete the rental checkout flight successfully but you aren’t able to take the airplane and go explore with your family/friends because of a “paperwork” issue… AOPA offers great insurance products and I’ve witnessed it be ordered, issued and have the proper paperwork supplied in short order, which helps when you need it but don’t have it!

  1. Learn the Area!

If you have spent a lot of time flying a certain type of airplane and are able to find a flight school or FBO to rent you that type of airplane it is likely the checkout flight will be pretty easy. You’ll know where the switches are and how to operate all of the systems and avionics effectively.

But what you won’t have a good handle on is the area that is new to you… It’ll be a lot like when you fly out of your geographic comfort zone. Except instead of making a trip where you know you’ll be returning to your mapped comfort zone, on these trips you’ll be the unknown for the duration of your flights. The challenge is to turn the unknown into a remote geographic semi-comfort zone for yourself away from you home airport and the areas where you typically fly.

In 2010, I spent some time in Florida on a business trip. I had been to Florida a few times before and with a quick glance at a map I knew roughly where I’d be within the state after flying commercially into Palm Beach. During the trip I had a couple of days with light meeting schedules and some free time, so I seeked out a general aviation airport and flight school where I could rent an airplane. I found a school with a Cessna 172S, my favorite plane to fly, so I called and set up a checkout flight. Prior to making the trip I ordered a Sectional chart and spent some time on Google Earth reviewing the area and key landmarks. I listened on Live ATC to hear the common reporting points and made a point to study the area in depth.


Flying Florida! Kind of a boring landscape heading towards the Everglades…


By the time I went up on the checkout flight I impressed the flight instructor with my knowledge of the area. Of course, I knew I had a lot to learn but I was that much ahead of the game. This prep work did wonders for my ability to feel more comfortable during my flying in Florida, a place I had never flown before that trip.

  1. Bring your stuff…

Just like a pilot needs to be prepared and bring their documents when they complete their flight review, the same is true for a rental checkout flight. This may not be a regulatory requirement, but it is likely an insurance requirement. As is often the case, insurance requirements are a lot more restrictive than regulatory requirements.

The flight instructor that provides the checkout flight will want (really, need) to review your identification, pilot certificate, medical certificate and logbook. Of course for the instructor the logbook is the most important so they can gain some idea of what type of pilot you are and what type of flying you have done recently. This will allow the flight instructor to provide the best rental checkout possible, touching not just on the basics (stall recoveries, steep turns, landings), but also key items, which may not be practiced regularly… Plus, of course an introduction to the local area where you’ll be renting the aircraft.

Additionally, the flight school from which you’ll be renting will likely want/need to make copies of your documents to have on file while you are renting their aircraft. This includes, again, government issued photo identification, pilot and medical certificates, logbook and proof of insurance. Having everything with you makes things easier for everyone and illustrates to the flight school and the instructor that you are prepared and responsible. Both qualities the flight school hopes to see from someone flying away (temporarily) with their multi-thousand dollar asset of an aircraft!

Rental checkout flights are a regular and expected part of flying… The key is that in most cases rental checkouts are not full flight reviews, though some flight schools may require this. As a result, the flight will not be as in-depth as a flight review. The FAA after all does not require the checkout, you receive a pilot’s certificate that reads, “Airplane Single Engine Land.” So anything with 200 or less horsepower that is not complex that fits those descriptors and you’re good to go. This is a great illustration of how insurance requirements are often a lot more restrictive than regulatory requirements. Not to mention that without any training it certainly wouldn’t be a smart idea to just jump into a plane you’ve never flown before and go see what happens…

-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9


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