Wild waterfowl form the main reservoir of influenza A viruses, from which transmission occurs directly or indirectly to various secondary hosts, including humans. Direct avian-to-human transmission has been observed for viruses of subtypes A(H5N1), A(H7N2), A(H7N3), A(H7N7), A(H9N2) and A(H10N7) upon human exposure to poultry, but a lack of sustained human-to-human transmission has prevented these viruses from causing new pandemics. Recently, avian A(H7N9) viruses were transmitted to humans, causing severe respiratory disease and deaths in China. Because transmission via respiratory droplets and aerosols (hereafter referred to as airborne transmission) is the main route for efficient transmission between humans, it is important to gain an insight into airborne transmission of the A(H7N9) virus. Here we show that although the A/Anhui/1/2013 A(H7N9) virus harbours determinants associated with human adaptation and transmissibility between mammals, its airborne transmissibility in ferrets is limited, and it is intermediate between that of typical human and avian influenza viruses. Multiple A(H7N9) virus genetic variants were transmitted. Upon ferret passage, variants with higher avian receptor binding, higher pH of fusion, and lower thermostability were selected, potentially resulting in reduced transmissibility. This A(H7N9) virus outbreak highlights the need for increased understanding of the determinants of efficient airborne transmission of avian influenza viruses between mammals.