We compared the performance of the size 5 laryngeal mask airway in 20 paralysed anaesthetized male patients and 20 male cadavers (6–24 h post-mortem). Groups were matched for height and weight. Airway sealing pressure, in vivo intracuff pressure and anatomical position (judged fibre-optically) were documented at zero volume and after each additional 10 mL up to 40 mL. All laryngeal mask airways were inserted at the first attempt and insertion times were similar. There were no differences in airway sealing pressure, in vivo intracuff pressure or fibre-optic position between the groups. We conclude that the performance of the laryngeal mask airway is similar for fresh cadavers and paralysed anaesthetized patients. This may have implications for laryngeal mask airway research and training.