Using an airway mannequin and artificial lung model, we compared surgical cricothyroidotomy with a 6.0-mm cuffed Portex tracheostomy tube with wire-guided cricothyroidotomy using a 5.0-mm cuffed Melker or 6.0-mm uncuffed Melker tube. The trial was carried out by 27 anaesthetists using a randomised, crossover design. Surgical cricothyroidotomy proved significantly faster (mean (SD) time to first breath 44.3 (12.5) s for Portex surgical, 87.2 (21.6) s for cuffed Melker, 87.8 (19.2) s for uncuffed Melker, p < 0.001). With a standardised ventilator model, the cuffed tubes provided more effective ventilation (mean (SD) tidal volume 446 (41) ml Portex, 436 (52) ml cuffed Melker, 19 (5) ml uncuffed Melker, p < 0.001). Fourteen of the participants preferred the wire-guided system. We conclude that, in this model, a cuffed device is preferable when cricothyroidotomy is needed. In addition, the surgical method is quicker than a wire-guided approach.