Background: The benefit of the sitting position for surgery of the posterior fossa and cervical spine is still a matter of controversy. In our study we analyzed the outcome after sitting position surgery at our institution. We compared the incidence of venous air embolism (VAE) as recognized with different monitoring techniques and the severity of complications. Methods: We retrospectively analyzed 600 patients, who underwent surgery for different posterior fossa and cervical spine pathologies, respectively, in the sitting position at our institution from 1995 to 2011. Intraoperative monitoring for VAE included endtidal CO2 level, Doppler ultrasound or intraoperative transesophageal echocardiography (TEE). We defined VAE as a decrease of the endtidal CO2 levels by more than 4 mm Hg, a characteristic sound in the thoracic Doppler, or any sign of air in the TEE. Results: We found an overall incidence of VAE in 19 % of all patients, whereas the rate of severe complications associated with VAE such as a decline of partial oxygen pressure (pO2) or a drop of blood pressure was only 3.3 % in all patients. Only three out of 600 operations had to be terminated because of non-controllable VAE (0.5 %). There was no mortality resulting from VAE in our series. We also found a difference in the incidence of VAE depending on the monitoring technique. The VAE rate as monitored with TEE was 25.6 % whereas the incidence of VAE in patients monitored with Doppler ultrasound was 9.4 %. The rate of a significant VAE was comparable in both methods 4.8 % vs. 1.2 %. All patients were preoperatively screened for persisting foramen ovale (PFO); 24 patients with clinically confirmed PFO were included in this series. There was no case of paradox air embolism. Conclusions: In our series, VAE was detected in 19 % of all patients in the sitting position. However, in only 0.5 % of cases a termination of the surgical procedure became necessary. In all other cases, the cause of air embolism could be found and eliminated during surgery. TEE was found to be the monitoring technique with the highest sensitivity. In our opinion, the sitting position is a safe positioning technique if TEE monitoring is used.