Air Canada ranks below most other major North American airlines on customer satisfaction, with airfares a particular sore point, according to a new survey.

The country's largest carrier placed last in both business class and premium economy, the poll by consumer analytics firm J.D. Power found.

In economy class, Air Canada placed ninth out of 11 peers, beating budget carriers Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines.

WestJet sat a little closer to the middle of the pack, coming in fifth out of seven for premium economy and seventh of 11 for economy.

"With Air Canada, people were not as happy with the value for price paid," said Michael Taylor, who heads J.D. Power's travel division. That's one of six factors rated by passengers, alongside other factors including digital tools, airline staff and onboard experience.

"They basically expected more for the cost of their tickets," he said.

Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines notched the highest scores, a result Taylor attributed to their investment in staff training and recruitment.

"Flight attendants at Delta actually have these smartphones — they call them 'hand-helds,' but they're basically smartphones — that let you see details of the guest in each individual seat and their history with the airline. So the staff can ask them how their trip compared to the last one or if their specific needs are met," Taylor said in an interview.

"You can’t be nice to all 185 passengers on a plane. But you can be really nice to five or 10.”

Meanwhile, Southwest aims to "hire for attitude" and encourages cabin crew to let their personalities "shine through," Taylor said. "Just let them be themselves instead of reading from a script."

Air Canada pushed back against its low score, stating that it has earned high marks for service in various rankings.

"This is one of a number of customer-based rankings and it should be noted that in others, many that use much larger sample sizes, Air Canada has performed very well," said spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick in an email.

He pointed to recent laurels for service, staffing and onboard entertainment from the Skytrax airline review website, the Trazee Travel site, its sister publication Global Traveler Magazine and the Airline Passenger Experience Association.

J.D. Power's online survey polled 9,582 customers between March 2023 and March 2024.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2024.