What should have been a convenient, three-hour flight from the temperamental Maine spring to the reliably warm Florida sands turned into a 20-hour odyssey for roughly 70 airline passengers eager for a vacation over the weekend.

Sam Kelly of South Portland, who usually flies out of Boston, was one of the passengers taking advantage of Elite Airways’ new direct flights from Portland to Melbourne, Florida. Instead, his trip was delayed by two mechanical issues, one that led to an unscheduled layover in Norfolk, Virginia, where passengers spent the night on chairs and couches. In all, it took three airliners to complete the trip.

Elite Airways was founded in 2006 and began offering direct flights between Portland International Jetport and Florida in 2015. The president of the Portland-based aviation company said Friday’s flight was unprecedented. All passengers were given free round-trip tickets as a consolation.

“It was just an unfortunate sequence of events,” said John Pearsall, president of Elite Airways, who was embarrassed by the debacle. “We’ve never had that happen before.”

Although Kelly had developed a sense of humor about the problem-plagued flight by Monday, fellow passenger Steve Albison Jr. had not. He said his wife was sick with anxiety after the ordeal and his children, ages 12 and 14, were jaded by their first airplane ride. He said he was dinged for $679 when they missed a presentation in Orlando about a potential timeshare because of the delay.

“For our first family trip, it was pretty crappy. We’re making the best of it now,” Albison said in a phone interview Monday from Disney World in Orlando. “We’re trying to switch to get a different airline home.”

The ordeal started in Portland around 3 p.m. Friday, when the last of three flights carrying 70 passengers each was due to leave Portland for Melbourne. The first two flights, carrying 140 people, departed and arrived without incident, Pearsall said.

A mechanical issue delayed takeoff. Passengers were told they could leave the Portland jetport and return by 7 p.m. while an airline employee drove to Bangor for a spare part. When they returned, passengers were told repairs weren’t possible and another plane was being flown up from Florida. The flight finally left Portland about 10 p.m.

An hour into the flight, passengers, who included many elderly people and children, were told the airliner was making an emergency landing in Norfolk because of a crack in the windshield. The plane landed around midnight, and passengers waited about half an hour while the plane was inspected. They were told it could not be flown, so they disembarked, Kelly said.

An official at Norfolk International Airport said the plane was sent to a private terminal because Elite doesn’t have a contract with another airline’s ground crew in Norfolk to offload bags.

Passengers were never endangered by the window crack, said Steven Schell, the general manager of the private plane terminal. He said the plane was flown to another airport for repairs. Elite Airways has no reports of accidents or safety incidents with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Kelly, traveling with his daughters, ages 9 and 11, said passengers became frustrated when the pilot and the crew apparently went to a hotel and passengers were left in the terminal. They were given scant information, other than being told another plane was en route to take them to Florida.

“People are pushing couches together to figure out how to get their kids to sleep,” Kelly said in a phone interview Monday from Hutchinson Island, Florida, where he was vacationing with his daughters.

“It was the weirdest thing I have ever experienced,” he said. “We felt like passengers in a car who were dropped off in the middle of nowhere, wondering how we were going to get out of there.”

Elite worked with operators of the private terminal to feed passengers and made several trips to local stores to buy supplies, such as diapers, for the children. Passengers boarded the new plane at 8 a.m. and finally arrived in Melbourne, albeit 17 hours late.

Kelly said he appreciated the airline’s focus on safety, but wishes at least one of the airline crew members had stayed at the terminal in Norfolk to keep people informed.

And after a day or two in the warm Florida sun to reflect, he said the experience hadn’t been all bad. A doctor on the same flight assured Kelly’s daughter that a tick bite would be fine. And his family also met a Korean War veteran who had a few stories to tell.

“Hopefully this experience gives them the opportunity to refine their procedures,” said Kelly, who was otherwise pleased with the quality of the aircraft and crew – when they were present. “I feel like everyone deserves a second chance.”