The Airtraq (R), a novel single use indirect laryngoscope, has demonstrated promise in the normal and simulated difficult airway. We compared the ease of intubation using the Airtraq with the Macintosh laryngoscope, in patients at increased risk for difficult tracheal intubation, in a randomised, controlled clinical trial. Forty consenting patients presenting for surgery requiring tracheal intubation, who were deemed to possess at least three characteristics indicating an increased risk for difficulty in tracheal intubation, were randomly assigned to undergo tracheal intubation using a Macintosh (n = 20) or Airtraq (n = 20) laryngoscope. All patients were intubated by one of three anaesthetists experienced in the use of both laryngoscopes. Four patients were not successfully intubated with the Macintosh laryngoscope, but were intubated successfully with the Airtraq. The Airtraq reduced the duration of intubation attempts (mean (SD); 13.4 (6.3) vs 47.7 (8.5) s), the need for additional manoeuvres, and the intubation difficulty score (0.4 (0.8) vs 7.7 (3.0)). Tracheal intubation with the Airtraq also reduced the degree of haemodynamic stimulation and minor trauma compared to the Macintosh laryngoscope.