It’s not only dangerous to use your cell phone in flight, it may also be dangerous to watch a movie. Gary Stoller writes in USA Today that in March, a Boeing 757 had to return to a U.S. airport when smoke started coming out of an in-flight entertainment system, and another system’s wiring may have caused a Swissair crash in 1998.

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board concluded that faulty wiring in an entertainment system may have been behind the fire caused Swissair crash near Nova Scotia in 1998, killing all 229 passengers. ”The time is long past that we can consider these systems as risk-free,” says pilot and safety expert Jim Shaw. ”I know many instances where problems with in-flight entertainment systems created smoke and fire events.”

Since the Swissair crash, U.S. airlines have sent the FAA 60 ”service difficulty reports” about in-flight entertainment systems, many of them reporting fires, smoke or sparks. Airlines are required to report each ”failure, malfunction or defect” that endangers airline safety within 72 hours. ”The 60 reports are probably just the tip of the iceberg,” says airline consultant Alex Richman. ”More incidents probably go unreported than are reported.”

An entertainment system adds thousands of pounds to the weight of a jet. It has more than 2,000 parts and uses about 4 1/2 miles of wire, according to entertainment system manufacturer Greg Steiner.

Former Defense Department employee Ed Block has inspected wiring on various jets for the FAA task force and for families of the Swissair victims. He thinks all in-flight entertainment systems should be banned because their electrical wiring can start a fire during flight. He says that adding four miles of entertainment system wire to a jet that may have more than 100 miles of other wires is ”like throwing gas on a fire.”

Are we having too much fun to notice the dangers ahead?

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