The respiratory epithelium of humans and animals is frequently exposed to alphaherpesviruses, originating from either external exposure or reactivation from latency. To date, the polarity of alphaherpesvirus infection in the respiratory epithelium and the role of respiratory epithelial integrity herein has not been studied. Equine herpesvirus type 1 (EHV1), a well-known member of the alphaherpesvirus family, was used to infect equine respiratory mucosal explants and primary equine respiratory epithelial cells (EREC), grown at the air-liquid interface. EHV1 binding to and infection of mucosal explants was greatly enhanced upon destruction of the respiratory epithelium integrity with EGTA or N-acetylcysteine. EHV1 preferentially bound to and entered EREC at basolateral cell surfaces. Restriction of infection via apical inoculation was overcome by disruption of intercellular junctions. Finally, basolateral but not apical EHV1 infection of EREC was dependent on cellular N-linked glycans. Overall, our findings demonstrate that integrity of the respiratory epithelium is crucial in the host’s innate defence against primary alphaherpesvirus infections. In addition, by targeting a basolaterally located receptor in the respiratory epithelium, alphaherpesviruses have generated a strategy to efficiently escape from host defence mechanisms during reactivation from latency.