In Germany it is common practice to use pulse oximetry and supplementary oxygen only on request in patients breathing spontaneously transferred to the post-anaesthesia care unit (PACU) following surgery under general anaesthesia. The main aim was to study the influence of medical training and clinical experience on assessing SpO(2) and detecting hypoxaemia in these patients. The second aim was to do a preliminary assessment whether this practice can be found in countries other than Germany. Anaesthetists, nurses and medical students estimated SpO(2) in patients breathing room air at the end of transfer to the PACU following surgery (including all major surgical fields) under general anaesthesia. Estimated SpO(2) was compared to SpO(2) measured by pulse oximetry. A survey was carried out among European anaesthesists concerning the use of pulse oximetry and supplementary oxygen during patient transfer to the PACU. Hypoxaemia (SpO(2) < 90 %) occurred in 154 (13.5 %) out of 1,138 patients. Anaesthetists, nurses, and medical students identified only 25, 23, and 21 patients of those as being hypoxaemic, respectively. Clinical experience did not improve detection of hypoxaemia both in anaesthetists (p = 0.63) and nurses (p = 0.18). Use of pulse oximetry and supplemental oxygen during patient transfer to the PACU in European countries differs to a large extent. It seems to be applied only on request in many hospitals. Considering the uncertainty about deleterious effects of transient, short lasting hypoxaemia routine use of pulse oximetry is advocated for patient transfer to the PACU.