In the last 25 yr, there have been several advances in the safe management of the airway. Videolaryngoscopes and supraglottic airways, now in routine use by new trainees in anaesthesia, have had their genesis in the recent past. The 4th National Audit Project of the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Difficult Airway Society published in 2011 a seminal report that has influenced airway management worldwide. Understanding how the report’s recommendations were constructed and how clinical guidelines compliment rather than contradict them is important in understanding the tenets of safe airway management. Over the last 25 yr there has been an increasing understanding of the effects of human factors in anaesthesiology: we may not perform in a predictable or optimal manner when faced with unusual and threatening challenges. The place of cricoid pressure in anaesthetic practice has also evolved. Current recommendations are that it be applied, but it should be released rapidly should airway difficulty be encountered. The need to prevent hypoxaemia by preoxygenation has long been recognized, but the role of high-flow nasal oxygen in anaesthesia is now being realized and developed. Clinicians must decide how novel therapies and long-standing practices are adapted to best meet the needs of our patients and prevent harm during airway management.