The airway epithelium acts as a frontline defense against respiratory viruses, not only as a physical barrier and through the mucociliary apparatus but also through its immunological functions. It initiates multiple innate and adaptive immune mechanisms which are crucial for efficient antiviral responses. The interaction between respiratory viruses and airway epithelial cells results in production of antiviral substances, including type I and III interferons, lactoferrin, β-defensins, and nitric oxide, and also in production of cytokines and chemokines, which recruit inflammatory cells and influence adaptive immunity. These defense mechanisms usually result in rapid virus clearance. However, respiratory viruses elaborate strategies to evade antiviral mechanisms and immune responses. They may disrupt epithelial integrity through cytotoxic effects, increasing paracellular permeability and damaging epithelial repair mechanisms. In addition, they can interfere with immune responses by blocking interferon pathways and by subverting protective inflammatory responses toward detrimental ones. Finally, by inducing overt mucus secretion and mucostasis and by paving the way for bacterial infections, they favor lung damage and further impair host antiviral mechanisms.