Direct laryngoscopic tracheal intubation is a potentially lifesaving manoeuvre, but it is a difficult skill to acquire and to maintain. These difficulties are exacerbated if the opportunities to utilise this skill are infrequent, and by the fact that the consequences of poorly performed intubation attempts may be severe. Novice users find the Airtraq((R)) laryngoscope easier to use than the conventional Macintosh laryngoscope. We therefore wished to determine whether novice users would have greater retention of intubation skills with the Airtraq((R)) rather than the Macintosh laryngoscope. Twenty medical students who had no prior airway management experience participated in this study. Following brief didactic instruction, each took turns performing laryngoscopy and intubation using the Macintosh and Airtraq((R)) devices in easy and simulated difficult laryngoscopy scenarios. The degree of success with each device, the time taken to perform intubation and the assistance required, and the potential for complications were then assessed. Six months later, the assessment process was repeated. No didactic instruction or practice attempts were provided on this latter occasion. Tracheal intubation skills declined markedly with both devices. However, the Airtraq((R)) continued to provide better intubating conditions, resulting in greater success of intubation, with fewer optimisation manoeuvres required, and reduced potential for dental trauma, particularly in the difficult laryngoscopy scenarios. The substantial decline in direct laryngoscopy skills over time emphasise the need for continued reinforcement of this complex skill.