A United pilot is not a public figure.
However this individual is an elected state legislator, which is certainly a public figure.
Among his qualifications for being a viable candidate for the position are being a airline pilot according to his website.'
Individuals who work for private companies who choose to run for elected public offices do make a conscious decision to place their 'public figure' life ahead of their professional life. If there are controversies in their public political life, they should fully expect possible consequences from their private employer.
Michael Folk had to be aware that such comments might have a negative impact upon his career by bringing his employer status into the public discussion.
However, at age 63, Folk is planning his mandatory retirement in less than two years from being an airline pilot, and he likely doesn't care that he might be pushed out the door a little early. This is an election year, and his chance to be noticed and likely improve his political career chances.