Birth prior to term interrupts the normal development of the respiratory system and consequently results in poor respiratory outcomes that persist throughout childhood. The mechanisms underpinning these poor respiratory outcomes are not well understood, but intrinsic abnormalities within the airway epithelium may be a contributing factor. Current evidence suggests that the airway epithelium is both structurally and functionally abnormal after preterm birth, with reports of epithelial thickening and goblet cell hyperplasia in addition to increased inflammation and apoptosis in the neonatal intensive care unit. However, studies focusing on the airway epithelium are limited and many questions remain unanswered; including whether abnormalities are a direct result of interrupted development, a consequence of exposure to inflammatory stimuli in the perinatal period or a combination of the two. In addition, the difficulty of accessing airway tissue has resulted in the majority of evidence being collected in the pre-surfactant era which may not reflect contemporary preterm birth. This review examines the consequences of preterm birth on the airway epithelium and explores the clinical relevance of currently available models whilst highlighting the need to develop a clinically relevant in vitro model to help further our understanding of the airway epithelium in preterm birth.