Hundreds of people have had their travel plans thrown into chaos as high winds and heavy rainfall led airlines to cancel dozens of flights in and out of Sydney airport in the lead-up to the AFL grand final.

Approximately 40 flights due to land in or depart from Sydney were cancelled on Thursday morning, leading to knock-on cancellations in Melbourne, as severe weather warnings were issued by the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) for heavy falls and thunderstorms across New South Wales’ east coast.

Passengers reported receiving alerts about cancellations from 4.30am, and long queues were seen inside the Sydney terminal on Thursday morning.

Virgin, Qantas, Jetstar and Rex elected to cancel some flights after they were notified by Airservices Australia, the country’s air navigation service provider, on Wednesday evening of potential severe weather conditions.

Sydney airport was facing the prospect of reducing operations to a single runway due to heavy rain and wind, airlines were told. As of early Thursday afternoon, that had not been necessary, with dual runways continuing to operate and the weather conditions stabilising.

Guardian Australia understands that all those passengers travelling by Qantas to Melbourne, which is hosting the AFL grand final on Saturday, were able to be accommodated on other flights.

In a statement, Airservices Australia said it was working with Sydney airport “to protect the safety of the travelling public and that of our airline customers”.

“Due to easing weather conditions, Sydney airport is now not expected to have to move to single runway operations,” the statement said. “Airservices is constantly monitoring weather conditions.”

A spokesperson for Sydney airport told AAP that passengers should check the status of their flights with the airline.

“Passengers who are travelling today are recommended to arrive two hours prior to domestic flight departures, and three hours for international services,” the spokesperson said.

About 2.4 million people are expected to fly through Sydney during the holiday peak.

Travellers at Melbourne airport also faced hurdles, with 11 flights cancelled on Thursday, predominantly those arriving from Sydney.

About 86,000 people are transiting through Melbourne airport on Thursday, with terminals busy but flowing well, a spokesperson for the airport told AAP.

As Victorians enjoy two consecutive public holidays before the weekend, a further 90,000 people are expected to travel through Melbourne airport on Friday and Sunday, with Grand Final Saturday expected to be a slower day in the terminals.

Travellers are urged to arrive one to two hours before domestic flights and two to three hours before international flights at Melbourne airport.

“Given there are so many people travelling this long weekend, we’re encouraging everyone to allow themselves plenty of time to find a car park, check in and clear security,” the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile in Queensland, operations are “flowing relatively smoothly” at the Gold Coast airport, according to a spokesperson.

She told AAP operations are being assisted by an ambassador program that is helping people board their flights and check in at the terminal.

Thursday’s public holiday coincides with the start of school holidays in many states, with Queensland and Victoria on school holidays, and the NSW, Northern Territory, ACT and Western Australian term ending on Friday. Tasmania goes on holidays at the end of next week.

– Australian Associated Press contributed to this report

Source: The Guardian