There is a way that this can be done before booking the flight. Many passengers don't understand that the booking method determines their seat assignment choices when flying.
For example, if you book your tickets online at www.aa.com there is a seat map with the option to choose your seat assignments. Also when you check-in at the airport kiosk you get a second chance to change your seat assignment.
Sometimes there may be an aircraft swap which changes your seat assignment. If you are not sitting together, you can always ask other passengers to switch with you. Sometimes this may work to get seats together.
Many passengers prefer to book online at Priceline, Expedia, Travelocity to save money. I recommend signing up for AA Net Saver Fares. Fares are competitive if you watch for the fare sales.
Also sign up for the American Airlines Advantage loyalty program even if you don't fly often. One can earn miles for shopping and dining besides flying.
Purchasing your tickets through the airline online website offers you more flexibility when delays or cancels occur beside the ability to choose your seats.
The biggest advantage to booking through the airline website is the ability of the agents to rebook you on another carrier if your flight misconnects, delays or cancel. It may prevent you from getting stuck in an airport for hours. Sometimes you have the option of getting out on the next available seat of another carrier.
AA.com is now on iPhone which allows you to check flight status on your cell phone. You can check-in for a flight or see if your flight is on-time, delayed, cancelled. iPhone app helps you view and store mobile boarding pass; set a parking reminder; track your elite status progress; monitor your place on the stand-by list; get your gate, seat, flight info at a glance. "Plus when you install and launch the app, you register for your chance to win ONE MILLION American Airlines AAdvantage miles. (If you've already installed the app, download the latest version to register within the app.) Download now at www.aa.com.appstore."
When you purchase your tickets from another online site other than the airline website your rebooking options maybe limited to waiting for an open seat on that airline.
Especially during the holidays when the flights are full and weather delays are common, I have seen families stuck in the airport with kids screaming and crying. Those cheap tickets aren't so cheap anymore when frayed parents have to shell out more money for meals and hotel rooms. Many times they have to take a bus or train or rent a car to drive to their final destination. Then the value of the cheap ticket goes out the window.
Those other online travel websites sometimes limit your connecting flight options. One should allow two to three hours for a connection during the holidays or allow for weather delays.
Also I recommend connecting through a southern city hub like Dallas or Houston during the winter months. Many frequent flyers prefer to fly through the south to avoid winter weather delays. Most of the time this works, sometimes the southern cities will have winter weather delays, but for the most part it should work.
I recommend keeping the airline contact numbers in your address book of your cell phone. These are listed in back of American Airlines In-flight magazine American Way under Contact Us. Use these numbers to call for rebooking of your flight.
Learn to use technology to fly smarter. See you in the air.