If you're a frequent flyer, you know that your seat just keeps getting smaller and smaller.

Consider these shocking stats: The "pitch" of an economy-class seat — which is the distance from the middle of one seat to the same spot on the seat in the next row — has dropped to as small as 28 inches from the 1970s, when it was 35 inches. And the seat width has narrowed to 16.5 inches from about 18 inches in just the last 10 years, Reuters reports.

Now a U.S. federal appeals court judge has ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to solve what she calls "The Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat."

Judge Patricia Millett told the FAA to re-examine an advocacy group's claim that shrinking airline seats endanger passengers, rejecting the agency's assertion that seat size doesn't matter in cases when the plane needs to be quickly evacuated.

"That makes no sense," she wrote for the three-judge panel, likening the rationale to doing "a study on tooth decay that only recorded participants’ sugar consumption" but did not look at brushing and flossing.

All three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed the FAA must conduct a new review of the request for regulations setting a minimum airline seat size, but Judge Judith Rogers dissented from part of the court's rationale. ...

Critics accuse the airlines of being more interested in profit than passenger health and safety.

FAA spokesman Greg Martin wrote in an e-mail the agency "does consider seat pitch in testing and assessing the safe evacuation of commercial, passenger aircraft. We are studying the ruling carefully and any potential actions we may take to address the court’s findings."

Meanwhile, the U.S. House is mulling a bill to force the FAA to set minimum seat sizes on U.S. airlines and a minimum distance between rows to "protect the safety and health of airline passengers."

Of course, it doesn't help that passengers keep getting bigger, but, c'mon, 28 inches?