© 2019, The Author(s). Mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) is a technique for mapping the spatial distributions of molecules in sectioned tissue. Histology-preserving tissue preparation methods are central to successful MSI studies. Common fixation methods, used to preserve tissue morphology, can result in artifacts in the resulting MSI experiment including delocalization of analytes, altered adduct profiles, and loss of key analytes due to irreversible cross-linking and diffusion. This is especially troublesome in lung and airway samples, in which histology and morphology is best interpreted from 3D reconstruction, requiring the large and small airways to remain inflated during analysis. Here, we developed an MSI-compatible inflation containing as few exogenous components as possible, forgoing perfusion, fixation, and addition of salt solutions upon inflation that resulted in an ungapped 3D molecular reconstruction through more than 300 microns. We characterized a series of polyunsaturated phospholipids (PUFA-PLs), specifically phosphatidylinositol (-PI) lipids linked to lethal inflammation in bacterial infection and mapped them in serial sections of inflated mouse lung. PUFA-PIs were identified using spatial lipidomics and determined to be determinant markers of major airway features using unsupervised hierarchical clustering. Deep lung architecture was preserved using this inflation approach and the resulting sections are compatible with multiple MSI modalities, automated interpretation software, and serial 3D reconstruction.