Using readily available and objective airway risk criteria, a multivariate model for stratifying risk of difficult endotracheal intubation was developed and its accuracy compared to currently applied clinical methods. We studied 10,507 consecutive patients who were prospectively assessed prior to general anesthesia with respect to mouth opening, thyromental distance, oropharyngeal (Mallampati) classification, neck movement, ability to prognath, body weight, and history of difficult tracheal intubation. After induction of anesthesia, the laryngeal view during rigid laryngoscopy was graded and the ability of experienced anesthesia personnel to ventilate via a mask was determined. Poor intubating conditions (laryngoscopy Grade IV) and inability to achieve adequate mask ventilation were identified in 107 (1%) and 8 (0.07%) cases, respectively. Logistic regression identified all seven criteria as independent predictors of difficulty with laryngoscopic visualization. A composite airway risk index (derived from nominalized odds ratios calculated from the multivariate model) as well a simplified (0 = low, 1 = medium, 2 = high) risk weighting exhibited higher positive predictive value for laryngoscopy Grade IV at scores with similar sensitivity to Mallampati class III, as well as higher sensitivity at scores with similar positive predictive value. Compared to Mallampati class I fewer false-negative predictions were observed at a risk index value of 0. We conclude that improved risk stratification for difficulty with visualization during rigid laryngoscopy (Grade IV) can be obtained by use of a simplified preoperative multivariate airway risk index, with better accuracy compared to oropharyngeal (Mallampati) classification at both low- and high-risk levels.