We used key words and letter sequences to identify airway-associated patient safety incidents submitted to the UK National Patient Safety Agency from critical care units in England and Wales. We identified 1085 such airway incidents submitted in the two years from October 2005 to September 2007. Three hundred and twelve incidents (28.8%) involved neonates or babies. Of the total 1085 incidents, 200 (18.4%) were associated with tracheal intubation, 53 (4.9%) with tracheostomy and 893 (82.3%) were post-procedure problems. One hundred and ten incidents (10.1%) were associated with more than temporary harm. Eighty-eight intubation incidents were associated with equipment problems. Partial displacement of tubes resulted in more than temporary harm to the patient more frequently than complete tube displacement (15.7% vs 3.8%). Capnography was not described in any cases of displacement or blockage of tracheal or tracheostomy tubes. Recommendations concerning minimum standards for capnography, availability and checking of equipment and tracheostomy placement are made.