The characterization of complex patterns arising from three-phase (e.g., oil-gas-water) flows is an important problem with significant engineering and industrial applications. Based solely on measured conductance fluctuation signals from experimental three-phase flows, we propose a method to characterize and distinguish three commonly observed flow patterns. Using the phase characterization method, we first calculate the instantaneous phase from the signals. Then, through performing a scaling analysis, detrended fluctuation analysis (DFA), we extract scaling behaviors associated with the phase fluctuations and find that the DFA scaling exponent is sensitive to the transition among different flow patterns, which can be used to characterize nonlinear dynamics of the three-phase flow. From a novel perspective, we investigate the three-phase flow in terms of phase characterization and scaling analysis. The results indicate that our method can provide new insights into the exploration of complex mechanism in flow pattern transition. The effectiveness of the method is demonstrated and its broader applicability is articulated.